NORFOLK,Va – For the second straight game, the Checkers, desperately in need of points as their playoff push reaches a critical stage, had them taken away in agonizing fashion.
Devante Smith-Pelly scored the winning goal with 1:58 remaining in regulation to help Norfolk earn a 5-3 win and hand Charlotte its second consecutive loss. Chris Terry, Matt Marquardt and Brett Sutter scored for the visitors, while John Muse made 23 saves.
The loss comes on the heels of Sunday’s 3-2 defeat to Lake Erie, in which the Monsters broke a tie game with 4:08 remaining. Prior to that, the Checkers had won seven of eight games to get to within four points of a playoff spot, a gap that will remain the same regardless of their latest loss, although they no longer have games in hand on the eighth-place Rockford IceHogs.
If the late goal by Smith-Pelly, who added an empty-netter with five seconds left on the clock, wasn’t enough of a punch to the gut, referees disallowed a Checkers goal that would have tied the game at 4-4 with 19 seconds remaining. Though Sutter appeared to score his second of the game, referees had called coincidental minor penalties on Zach Boychuk and Dave Steckel, who were engaged in a wrestling match along the wall during the play.
The late exchange continued a back-and-forth game between the regional rivals, who were playing the eighth and final game of their GEICO Challenge Cup series – one that Charlotte clinched with a win in its last visit to Norfolk two weeks earlier.
At the tail end of a slow first period that featured just six shots for each team, Terry, who did not miss a game while joining the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday and returning on the morning of the game, tipped in a shot by Michal Jordan with just 2.2 seconds remaining. Norfolk had an answer for that shortly following the intermission, with Max Friberg scoring on the Admirals’ third attempt from the same sharp-angle position to Muse’s right.
The Checkers seemed to regain momentum when Matt Marquardt ripped a shot off the rush that goalie John Gibson could only get a piece of before it slowly trickled over the line to give his team a 2-1 lead, but Norfolk stormed back with two goals just 13 seconds apart within the next three minutes. Steckel got the first of those by taking advantage of a giveaway by an exhausted group of Checkers penalty killers, with Steven Whitney adding the second as he toe dragged and fired a shot over Muse’s glove and just inside the top corner of the net.
Sutter, who earlier assisted on Terry’s goal and later hit the crossbar before Smith-Pelly’s first goal, tied the game at 3-3 by jumping on a loose puck, turning and firing a shot that went through a few Admirals defenders before doing the same with Gibson.
Sutter and Terry, two veterans who had been leading the Checkers through their excellent run of games prior to this week, extended their point streaks to five games. Marquardt has points in three straight, while Muse’s five-game win streak that began with a win over Norfolk on Feb. 18 came to a halt.
The Checkers, who have 13 games remaining in their schedule, now return home to face the San Antonio Rampage at Time Warner Cable Arena this Friday and Sunday.
The Checkers went 5-3-0 against Norfolk this season, allowing them to win their second consecutive GEICO Cup … Marquardt’s point streak is his longest since March 10-15 of last season … The Checkers have taken fewer than 30 shots in three consecutive games, just the second time they have done so all season … Mark Flood led the Checkers with five shots on goal but also had a minus-three rating that tied Aaron Palushaj for the lowest on the team … Palushaj reached 200 AHL penalty minutes in the first period … Steckel’s goal ended a run of 19 consecutive penalty kills for Charlotte … Norfolk, which moved from eighth to seventh in the Eastern Conference with the win, was playing without top forwards Emerson Etem and Rickard Rakell … Checkers forwards Greg Nemisz and Brendan Woods missed the game due to injury.