CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After a disappointing result in Game 4, the Checkers’ season comes down to Saturday.
Facing elimination, the Oklahoma City Barons scored on the game’s first shift and never stopped piling on the goals on their way to a runaway 8-1 win over Charlotte on Friday. The final score line marked the most lopsided loss in the Checkers’ AHL history, regular season or playoffs.
The division rivals, who split their eight-game, regular-season series before exchanging victories in the postseason, are now set to meet one final time in a winner-take-all conclusion of their best-of-five series on Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Having had the entire second half of the game to digest this particular loss, the Checkers had already begun looking forward to that match-up by the time the final buzzer had sounded on Friday.
“Whether you lose 8-1 or 2-1, you’re going to Game 5,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It’s a new game.”
With their backs against the wall for the second time in this series – once when the Checkers took an early 2-0 lead in Game 2 at Oklahoma City and again after Charlotte’s 6-1 victory on Wednesday – the Barons once again turned in one of their finer performances.
Philippe Cornet got things going when Mark Acrobello found him completely alone in front of the crease, at which time he put a deke on goalie Rob Madore to score his first of the playoffs. Tyler Pitlick then scored on a long shot from the top of the right circle to make it 2-0, with Chris VandeVelde adding a third off a centering feed from Ben Eager.
It was the start of a tough night for Madore, the rookie netminder who gave way to backup Mike Murphy upon allowing a fourth goal off a three-on-one rush during an Oklahoma City power play early in period three. Madore made 13 saves on 17 shots, while Murphy stopped 16 of 20.
“It was a tough night for everyone,” said Daniels. “(Madore) was one player on a team that didn’t get the job done.”
Despite the early disadvantage, Charlotte had its share of chances to get back in the game. Chris Terry, who had two goals in Game 4, had the puck all alone in front of goal for a pair of chances in the opening frame, with Riley Nash hitting the post on another.
“After the first period the score looked ugly, but it could have easily been even,” said Checkers captain Brett Sutter.
When Barons captain Josh Green scored that fourth goal – the result of Charlotte’s penalty killers being overly aggressive with plenty of time still left in the game – the scaled tipped completely toward Oklahoma City, who out-shot the Checkers by a 17-3 margin in period two, scoring three more goals.
Zach Boychuk’s goal, in which rookie defensemen Ryan Murphy found him alone in front of Barons goalie Yann Danis in a play similar to Terry’s first chance in the first period, made the score 6-1 early in the third and extended Boychuk’s point streak to seven games (6g, 4a). While it gave the Checkers energy not previously seen during the game, it ended up being short-lived with Oklahoma City scoring two more times just 40 seconds apart in the following minutes.
Since Charlotte’s overtime win in Game 1, each of the next three games in the series were decided by three or more goals, with Friday’s marking the widest margin of victory seen in the AHL playoffs this season – a distinction that previously resided with Charlotte’s Game 4 triumph.
It was also the fourth time in the 12 total games between the teams this season that one team won by four or more goals. Each team has won two of those, suggesting that they usually end up even at the end of the day, despite the wild ride along the way.
It’s only fitting that the never-ending deadlock will extend to one final meeting, in which a winner will finally emerge.
“You’ve got to be excited about it,” said Sutter. “We knew they were a good team and it was going to be a long series.”
“I think if you told us we’d have one game for a chance to move on, we’d take it,” said Boychuk. “It’s going to be a dogfight right to the end.”
NOTES: The seven-goal loss margin topped the old record of six set in an 8-2 loss to Abbotsford on April 8, 2012 … The eight goals allowed tied a team record set in that same game … Oklahoma City’s Teemu Hartikainen, Josh Green and Martin Marincin each had three points … Zac Dalpe led the Checkers with five shots on goal … Six Charlotte skaters – Boychuk, Danny Biega, Riley Nash, Tim Wallace, Nicolas Blanchard and Brett Bellemore – had even plus/minus ratings … The Checkers gave up three power play goals on five chances while failing to score on four of their own … The Checkers faced elimination just once in their three previous playoff series as an AHL franchise, losing 4-3 in overtime to complete a sweep at the hands of Binghamton in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final … They are 2-2 when they have the chance to eliminate their opponent, including Friday’s result.