ROCKFORD, Ill – By facing 83 shots in two days, Anton Khudobin certainly made the most of his conditioning stint.
The Carolina Hurricanes goaltender, who joined the Checkers on their current road trip as he works his way back to form after missing over two months with an ankle injury, followed up a 36-save performance on Sunday with 41 more in Charlottes’ 3-2 win over Rockford on Monday. In doing so, he became the first Checkers goalie other than John Muse to win a game since Oct. 5.
Nicolas Blanchard and Chris Terry scored in the first two periods for Charlotte, with rookie defenseman Austin Levi netting his first professional goal to win the game early in the third period. The Checkers return home, where they will face the Texas Stars on Thursday and Friday, with two wins on their three-game road trip.
It was an interesting night for Khudobin, who earned first star honors, as the 27-year-old allowed preventable goals to Brandon Pirri, who put the IceHogs up 1-0 six minutes into the game, and Brad Winchester, who tied it at 2-2 on the power play just 26 seconds into the third. Both goals beat him through the legs from seemingly enough distance for him to make the save.
Aside from that he was perfect, with his save total the highest by a Checkers goalie this season. His best work came on a partial breakaway by Rockford’s Alex Broadhurst to preserve the third period lead provided by Levi, who chased IceHogs starter Kent Simpson from the game with a wrist shot from the point that hit the back of the net through traffic.
Khudobin was also instrumental in helping the Checkers kill two Matt Corrente penalties in the game’s final five minutes, the latter of which resulted in a six-on-four advantage for Rockford, which pulled relief goalie Mac Carruth in favor of the extra attacker. Carruth ended up stopping all 14 shots he faced in the game’s final 14 minutes, including several tough stops that gave his team a fighting chance to tie the game.
Khudobin’s performance could very well have been his last as a Checker, with the Raleigh News and Observer reporting that he could start for the Hurricanes as early as Thursday, putting him back into a battle against Cam Ward and former Checker Justin Peters for Carolina’s No. 1 job.
After giving up the initial goal to Pirri, the AHL’s reigning scoring champion, the Checkers fought back through Blanchard’s goal with 2:15 to play in the first period. Aaron Palushaj, Charlotte’s most productive offensive player in recent weeks, started the play by intercepting Simpson’s clearing attempt up the middle and dishing it to Brody Sutter, whose backhand went off Blanchard’s skate and into the net.
With the goal, five of Blanchard’s eight points this season have come in his last six games. Palushaj’s helper gave him 13 points (3g, 10a) in his last nine and extended his assist and point streak to four games (2g, 5a since Dec. 21).
Rather than trade goals with Chicago as they did in a 4-3 loss on Sunday, Charlotte scored its second in a row to take the lead on Terry’s blast from the point on the power play, a goal initially credited to Justin Shugg until replays showed that Shugg did not redirect it in front of goal. Terry’s 12th goal of the season put him two behind Zach Boychuk, currently on NHL duty with Carolina, for the team lead.
Approximately two and a half minutes after Winchester’s goal, the winner came from an unlikely source as Levi corralled a clearing attempt on the wall and put it on net for his first goal in 30 professional games, an unassisted tally. Levi, a third-round draft choice by Carolina in 2010, was playing his seventh game in the AHL after joining the team from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Dec. 14.
The win gave Charlotte a 4-2-1 record against Rockford this season, with the seventh meeting between the clubs tying the most that any two AHL teams have faced each other this season. After playing each other seemingly every other week during the season’s first half, they will not meet again until their last game of the regular season in April.
NOTES: Including tonight, nine of the Checkers’ last 12 games were decided by one goal. They are 7-2-0 in those games … Palushaj had six shots on goal for the second straight game, tying Shugg for the team lead on Monday … With one assist, Sutter extended his point streak to three games (0g, 3a since Dec. 27) … Center Greg Nemisz, who the Hurricanes acquired from Calgary and assigned to Charlotte just prior to the game, was not in the lineup … Mike Murphy was a healthy extra with Muse backing up Khudobin … Forward Sean Dolan and Jared Staal and defensemen Danny Biega and Rasmus Rissanen missed the game due to injury.