In desperate need of a turnaround, the Checkers continued to go full speed in the wrong direction.
In the regular-season finale at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Abbotsford Heat routed the Checkers by an 8-2 score on Sunday afternoon. The loss completed an 0-4 home stand for Charlotte, which included the previous day’s 2-1 setback to Abbotsford and prevented it from moving up from 10th place in the Western Conference with four games remaining on the schedule.
In losing for the seventh time in their final eight home games, the Checkers also set a new team record with their most lopsided defeat, as they had never before lost by more than five goals in their two-year history.
“When you go through a stretch like that you’ve got to hit rock bottom before you can go the other way,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “For me, that was rock bottom.”
“We got embarrassed tonight in front of our fans, and they don’t deserve that at all,” said forward Matthew Pistilli.
Continuing a recent trend, the Checkers were actually the better team at the start, at one point out-shooting Abbotsford 8-0. However, failing to capitalize during that stretch caused a predictable sag, as the Heat scored twice in in a span of 1:16 late in the first period.
The Checkers would never recover from that, as they were out-scored 5-1 and out-shot 20-5 in a disastrous second period that featured turnover after turnover in the defensive zone. Riley Nash finally beat goalie Danny Taylor to make it 6-1 before Krys Kolanos scored his second of the game, 30th of the season and 11th in his last seven games just seven seconds before the intermission.
“I thought we started out good, then you’re down 2-0 and it kind of snowballs from there,” said Daniels. “That’s the state we’re in right now.”
After Dustin Sylvester scored yet another goal for Abbotsford early in third period, Brett Sutter would grab one back with just under three minutes remaining on a strange bounce along the boards that left him with a simple finish into the empty net. That would be all the scoring for the Checkers, who got 19 saves from starter Mike Murphy (five goals against) and 13 more from Justin Peters (three against).
After the game, Daniels took the brunt of the responsibility for the loss, which extended the team record for longest home losing streak (four games).
“I’ve got to do a better job,” he said.
“It’s up to myself to get them focused and ready to go.”
Depending on later results on Sunday, the Checkers could find themselves as many as three points away from the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Though they still have games in hand on some of the teams they’re chasing, anything less than running the table on their upcoming four-game road trip would be playing with fire.
“We’re going to have to win those four games and get some help,” said Daniels.
“We’ve got to put this behind us and just look forward to these four games next week,” said Pistilli. “We’ve got to expect nothing less than to win all four games.”
That may be very well what it would take for there to be more hockey in Charlotte this season, which isn’t something that the Checkers are counting out just yet as they leave early Monday morning for Tuesday’s game in Rockford before starting a three-in-three set that will take them through Peoria and Rockford again before concluding in Milwaukee on April 15.
“We’ve been a very confident road team and we’ve been very steady,” said Daniels. “Two of our best games were on the road last week (a 5-2 win in Grand Rapids and a 4-1 win in Peoria), but now here we are.”
“We’ve got to start fresh and act like it’s the playoffs right away,” said Pistilli. “We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our fans to have a big week on the road, and we’re going to come back and play for these guys.”
NOTES: During the now-completed, four-game home stand, the Checkers were out-scored 18-5 … After losing 5-0 to Charlotte on Jan. 20, Abbotsford won the next three games in the season series … Nash’s goal broke a seven-game point drought … Kolanos finished with seven points in the two-game weekend … Abbotsford extended its point streak to seven games (6-0-1) ... Forwards Nicolas Blanchard, Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks missed the game due to injury.