CHARLOTTE, NC – It’s been a while since the Checkers needed their power play to win a game for them, but that’s exactly what happened Friday.
After losing a 3-0 lead to the visiting San Antonio Rampage, Chris Terry scored his second man-advantage goal of the game with 4:01 remaining to give the Checkers a 4-3 win at Time Warner Cable Arena. Aaron Palushaj and Brody Sutter also scored for Charlotte, which went 3-for-6 on the power play to halt its two-game losing streak.
Depending on the outcome of Rockford’s game at Chicago later in the evening (the IceHogs were down 5-0 after two periods), the Checkers could end the night within two points of a playoff spot. The win was their fifth in a row against the Rampage, who they host again on Sunday.
Given that San Antonio tied the game with less than seven minutes to play in regulation and that the Checkers had come up empty when tied late in the third period of their last two games, pulling this one out was just as important for their confidence as it was their chances of making the postseason.
“No one wanted to blow a lead like that, but [we had] the perseverance in our group and the character to come back like that and stick with it,” said Terry.
Terry’s winner came on a blast from the point that beat goalie Michael Houser on a screen set by Brett Sutter – a situation not unlike when he opened the scoring on a five-on-three midway through the second period. It happened less than two minutes after Rampage defenseman Matt Gilroy took advantage of a strange collision in the neutral zone to beat John Muse on the breakaway and make it a 3-3 game.
“It was a tough break,” said defenseman Michal Jordan, who was involved in that collision. “I thought it was a penalty, because obviously I didn’t fall on my own, but then we got the power play and we scored on that one. It was good to see that even on that breakdown we came back and won the game and got two important points.”
Along with Palushaj’s goal that made it 2-0, the Checkers scored three power play goals in the same game for the sixth time this season. They now rank second in the AHL at 22.1 percent.
“Out power play has been a positive throughout the year,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Tonight we needed them to win the game and they stepped up.”
The Checkers’ power play and, subsequently, the game, could have taken a much different turn had they not converted on that five-on-three power play that came when Rampage defensemen Greg Zanon and John Lee committed vicious boarding penalties against Palushaj and Justin Shugg, respectively, just seven seconds apart. The Checkers seemed to be in danger of missing their opportunity until Terry scored with seven seconds left.
“I thought we just stuck with it,” said Daniels. “We had a lot of movement and a couple of looks and nothing was going in. We had a break and made a couple of adjustments, stuck with it and scored one late.”
“There were about 38 seconds left and I just said to the guys to relax,” said Terry. “That’s more than enough time to score. I just tried to calm them down and say that all it takes is one shot and we’re up 1-0.”
They would extend that to 2-0 on their next power play, when Terry’s quick pass in the neutral zone set Zach Boychuk, Brett Sutter and Palushaj free on a three-on-one break. Houser stopped the initial shot by Boychuk and the first rebound try by Sutter, but Palushaj made the third time a charm.
Brody Sutter then made it a 3-0 game when Nicolas Blanchard took advantage of a bad giveaway by the Rampage defense and sent a spinning pass toward Sutter, who rifled a wrist shot off the far post and in.
That Terry got things going and won it late was fitting for a player who now has six goals over a five-game streak that marks the longest of his career and ties the longest posted by any AHL player at any time this season. It is also the longest by a Checkers player since Drayson Bowman set a franchise record with goals in eight consecutive games last season.
“You go through streaks like this where you can’t miss,” he said.
“Just from a consistency standpoint he’s been good all year, but the last month or so he’s really been on top of his game,” said Daniels. “He’s moving well and there’s no drop off in his game. Right from the get-go he looks strong out there.”
Terry now has 31 points in a blistering 25-game stretch since Jan. 23, though his teammates haven’t necessarily noticed a difference from what he’s been able to accomplish in four years as a Checker.
“It seems like he’s hot all the time, so it’s tough to say,” said Jordan, who had the primary assist on both of Terry’s goals. “Especially this time of year we’re trying to push for a playoff spot, it’s really important for those guys to step up at the right time.”
Terry earned recall to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes in the middle of his goal streak. At just one game, it perhaps wasn’t as long as he’d hoped for but he didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s better than no game,” he said. “I definitely was happy to earn a recall. Obviously things are going well down here and it shows that they’re watching every night. You always want to stay up longer, but I was thrilled to get that opportunity.”
Having responded appropriately from what Daniels felt was a disappointing loss in Norfolk two days earlier, the Checkers now hope to take it a step further as they play out their remaining 12 games.
“I still think we can get to another level,” said Daniels, citing a desire for his team to be harder on the puck. “I don’t think we’re at where we were (last week), but I thought we showed signs of getting back to that game and hopefully we can bring that Sunday.”
Terry, Palushaj and Victor Rask were all shaken up by hard collisions into the boards at one point but all either stayed in or returned to the game … Muse has won six of his last seven games and 19 of his last 26 … Terry (6g, 2a) and Brett Sutter (4g, 5a) each extended their point streaks to six games … Brett Sutter had an assist and a team-high five shots on goal … The Checkers out-shot San Antonio 21-9 in the second period, marking their highest shot total in a period since Jan. 19. Shots for the game were 46-32 … Shugg earned his 100th professional point with an assist on the winning goal … The Checkers (2-for-2 in this game) have killed 21 of 22 penalties since March 12 … Forwards Greg Nemisz and Brendan Woods missed the game due to injury, while defenseman Dennis Robertson was a healthy extra on defense.