It wasn’t the first time the Checkers were in desperate need of a response during their home stand. This time, they got exactly what they were looking for.
After surrendering the game’s first goal in the first period, the Checkers scored three unanswered to claim a 3-1 win over the Milwaukee Admirals at Time Warner Cable Arena on Tuesday. The win was the second of Charlotte’s 10-game home stand, now eight games old, and allowed them to reclaim first place in the South Division.
Zac Dalpe, Tim Wallace and Justin Faulk scored for Charlotte, with Justin Peters making 20 saves as the team got even with Milwaukee after a poor showing in Sunday’s prequel, a 5-2 defeat.
“Right from the get-go we played a great team game,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We gave one up early but we stuck with it, and I thought our leadership really stepped up tonight.”
“Character and leadership in the room,” said Dalpe when asked of the difference between the team’s last two performances. “Not playing so tight and realizing this game is fun. It was nice to see some smiles for sure.”
Having proven to be sluggish in their response to goals against during a slide that had seen them win just once in their previous seven games, Chris Mueller’s power play goal midway through the opening period could have been a bad omen despite a good effort out of the gates from the home team. However, a good start to the second period changed all that.
Halfway through the second, Dalpe got things going on a three-on-one break with Drayson Bowman and Riley Nash, with Dalpe finishing a give-and-go with Bowman on a shot from the right circle. Just over two minutes later, Wallace dangled around a Milwaukee defender and sent a low shot on net that beat Admirals backup Magnus Hellberg, who has faced the Checkers in three of his seven games played this season.
The goal by Wallace, a 28-year-old veteran who spent most of last season in the NHL, proved to be the game-winner. It was a fitting honor for a player who also displayed his trademark grit by throwing big hits and involving himself in plenty of extra-curricular activity with Admirals players between the whistles.
“He was by far our best player out there,” said Daniels of Wallace, who finished last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning before signing a two-way deal with Carolina this past offseason. “He doesn’t wear a letter on his jersey, but he definitely led by example out there.”
The goal was Wallace’s third of the season, two of which have come during the team’s current home stand.
“He probably hasn’t scored as much as he’d like, but he’s played the exact same way all year,” said Daniels. “It was nice to see him get rewarded for that.”
“We were pretty much in rock bottom,” said Wallace of the team’s recent struggles. “I wanted to lead by example.”
Once the Checkers built the 2-1 lead going into the third, the Checkers then got what Daniels described as a “huge goal,” as the result of another impressive passing play. It started when Jeremy Welsh entered the zone and left a drop pass for Chris Terry, who waited along the wall before sending a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Faulk in the right circle for the defenseman’s fourth of the season and first since Nov. 9.
From there, Peters shut the door as the Admirals applied more pressure than they had all game – they mustered just two shots in a dominant second period for the Checkers – in the third.
“He was real good tonight,” said Daniels of Peters. “He’s a vocal leader out there, and I’m sure you could hear him yelling to help the defense. He’s always ready to play.”
The Checkers were playing without two-time AHL All Star Jerome Samson, who Daniels surprisingly made a healthy scratch in an attempt to revive his team.
“Jerome is a big part of this hockey team and will be for the rest of the season,” said Daniels when asked what effect his decision might have had on his team’s performance. “It helped with the focus, and it was a game the team won together.”
The Checkers now have two days off before concluding their home stand with back-to-back games against Houston, which briefly passed them in the South Division with a win earlier in the day, before finishing a three-in-three weekend with a game in San Antonio on Sunday.
With their next opponent right behind them in the standings, the Checkers’ challenge will be carrying over their performance from this game to their next – something they were unable to do following a big 5-1 win over Lake Erie last Friday.
“Guys need to remember that we can play like that,” said Dalpe of his team’s performance on Tuesday. “Don’t be so tight.”
If nothing else, there are always recent and painful memories of the alternative to spur them on.
“It wasn’t very much fun coming to the rink when we were losing,” said Wallace.
NOTES: The Checkers tied the eight-game season series with Milwaukee at two games apiece and won for the second time in the last seven meetings between the two clubs … Milwaukee’s two shots in the second period were the fewest the Checkers have allowed in any period this season … The Checkers have not scored a power-play goal in three games, which is their longest drought of the season … Terry broke a seven-game point drought on his assist, Dalpe broke a five-game point drought on his goal, and Boychuk broke a four-game drought by assisting on Wallace’s goal. All three were the longest of the season for either player, while Terry’s was the longest of his career … Faulk took a game-high six shots on goal … In addition to Samson, forward Justin Soryal was a healthy scratch, while defenseman Rasmus Rissanen missed the game with an upper-body injury … Fans voted Wallace the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.