MILWAUKEE -- The Checkers’ quest to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs will have to wait at least one more night.
The Milwaukee Admirals came out on the right end of game marked by dramatic shifts in momentum, topping Charlotte by a 6-4 score on Friday. A Checkers win could have guaranteed them the fourth seed in the Western Conference, which they could still earn by a way of a win in Peoria in their final game of the regular season at Peoria on Saturday.
Jeremy Welsh, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe and Matt Marquardt had scored goals to erase a pair of two-goal deficits and give Charlotte a 4-3 lead going into the third period, but the Admirals, a bubble team playing their last home game of the regular season, scored three unanswered goals, including an empty-net tally, to keep their playoff chances in good shape.
Goalie Mike Murphy, making his first AHL start in over a year, stopped 30 of 35 shots as the Checkers’ point streak ended at five games (2-0-3).
Even with the regulation loss, scenarios existed on that would have allowed the Checkers to clinch home ice on Friday. However, they needed the three teams immediately behind them in the standings – Houston, Rochester and Oklahoma City - to all lose their games. Of the three, only Rochester did not record a victory.
Similar scenarios will be in place on Saturday when the Checkers conclude their four-game road trip in Peoria, a team it has posted a 12-2-1 record against over the past two seasons. All 30 AHL teams will be in action that night, while the Checkers are among a smaller group of teams that does not play Sunday.
For a time, it looked as though Charlotte would have home-ice advantage wrapped up on Friday thanks to a furious comeback, its second in as many games. After Mark van Guilder (a rebound goal on a Milwaukee rush) and Patrick Cehlin (collected a loose puck on a shot from the point Murphy thought he had covered) scored first-period goals, Welsh grabbed one back on a cool finish in front of goalie Magnus Hellberg with five minutes remaining.
A Joonas Rask goal early the second period seemed to have halted momentum from Welsh’s 13th of the season, but Boychuk changed that on a Checkers power play. Boychuk, who had drawn the penalty himself as he took a high hit from Milwaukee’s Brad Winchester, took a pass from rookie defenseman Ryan Murphy and ripped a shot that beat Hellberg cleanly for his 22nd of the season.
A little over a minute later, Dalpe became the third member of the Checkers’ 20-goal club, joining Boychuk and Chris Terry (25), when he toe-dragged around a sprawling Milwaukee defender and sent a quick shot from the slot that tied the game at 3-3. Later in the period, Marquardt, a healthy scratch in the team’s last game, scored on the rebound of a Justin Krueger point shot to give the Checkers their first lead, which they would hold going into the second intermission.
In the third period, it was Milwaukee’s turn to score three straight goals. First, Joe Piskula scored on a shot from the point that found its way in through traffic at the 11:38 mark, with Joshua Shalla scoring the game-winner on a rebound less than two minutes later.
Charlotte had a golden opportunity to tie the game when Terry drew a holding penalty on what could have been a breakaway chance with 1:45 remaining, but the Admirals’ Zach Hamill scored the empty-netter with Murphy pulled for the extra attacker to seal the win.
The result marked Milwaukee’s third consecutive win over the Checkers, including back-to-back wins in Charlotte earlier this month. Though not the most likely of a glut of remaining scenarios, it is still possible for the teams to face each other in the first round of the playoffs should Milwaukee shoot up to fifth place while the Checkers remain in fourth.
NOTES: Ryan Murphy’s assist was his first professional point (six games) … With an assist on Boychuk’s goal, Terry extended his road point streak to a league-high nine games (4g, 8a) and his overall point streak to five games (1g, 6a) … Marquardt, a professional tryout signing, has two goals in his last three games … Mike Murphy’s start was his first since April 8, 2012, when he allowed five goals on 24 shots against Abbotsford … Rasmus Rissanen (assist, plus-1) was the only Checker to finish with a positive plus/minus rating … The Checkers took 30 shots on goal, marking their sixth consecutive game with 30 or more … Forwards Brock McGinn and Jerome Samson, defenseman Eric Baier and goalie John Muse were healthy scratches.