HERSHEY, PA. — Having suffered a pair of lopsided home defeats at the hands of the Hershey Bears in November, the Checkers were able to return the favor this weekend.
On the heels of Saturday’s 4-1 victory, the Checkers picked up a 6-3 win over the Bears one day later to conclude the season series between the cross-conference rivals. Zach Boychuk scored three third-period goals to pick up his fourth career hat trick and third since Jan. 24, Ryan Murphy extended his franchise-record assist streak and picked up his first AHL goal and Justin Peters made 36 saves to win for the second straight day.
Chris Terry and Mark Flood also scored goals and Aaron Palushaj had three assists for the Checkers, who went 3-for-6 on the power play and once again returned to the .500 mark for the season at 26-26-3. They finished the game ranked 11th in the Western Conference with 55 points as they get set to continue their team-record run of 10 consecutive road games (2-2-1 so far) with a game in Norfolkon Tuesday.
Boychuk, who set a new career high with his 24th goal of the season on Saturday, was pointless in this game until the 7:47 mark of the third period, when he answered a goal by Hershey defenseman Tyson Strachan, a former Carolina Hurricanes draft pick, that made it 3-2 Checkers with his first of the night just 39 seconds later.
That goal and his second with just under five minutes remaining in the game both came on nice cross-crease setups off the rush, with Palushaj delivering the first and Terry dishing the second. After goalie David Leggio made a great save to rob him of his hat trick a few minutes earlier, Boychuk found the empty net with two seconds remaining to seal the win.
Boychuk finished the game with 27 goals, good for fourth in the AHL. His second goal was his 14thpower play goal of the season, extending a franchise record and pulling him into a first-place tie for most in the AHL.
Playing against a team on a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) and playing for the third time in three days, the Checkers jumped out to a 3-0 lead at the midway point of the second period. They struck first on a five-on-three power play with just 2.9 seconds left in the first period when Terry scored on a one-timer from the right circle set up by Palushaj.
Murphy earned the secondary assist on that goal, extending his streak to 10 games. That marks the longest in the AHL since the 2011-12 season and longest by a defenseman since fellow rookie Mattias Karlsson had assists in 12 straight games during the 2008-09 campaign. Murphy’s point streak is also the longest by a Checkers player this season and is one short of the franchise record set by Bobby Sanguinetti in January and February of 2012.
Murphy, the Hurricanes’ first-round pick in 2011, later made it 17 points (1g, 16a) in 15 AHL games played this season with a shot from the left circle that beat Leggio through traffic. Hershey coach Mike Haviland argued interference on the goal, so much so that officials ejected him from the game.
Prior to that, Flood, another high scorer from defense, had made it 2-0 on a slap shot from the right point, extending his franchise record for most goals by a defenseman in a single season (13). He ranks second in goals and power-play goals (8) by AHL blueliners.
With the Checkers out-shot 39-26 on the day, Peters, who has one game left on his 14-day conditioning stint from the Carolina Hurricanes, was sharp when needed. Much like Saturday’s game, he was a key part of a perfect penalty-killing unit for Charlotte that went 4-for-4 on Sunday to finish the weekend 10-for-10 against the Bears.
Including his opening-night start on Oct. 4 and the first four games of his conditioning loan, Peters is 3-1-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .933 save percentage at the AHL level this season. In addition to Strachan, AHL veterans Jeff Taffe and Ryan Stoa were also able to beat him as the Bears lost their third straight game on home ice after winning each of their previous 12.