Needing every possible point of the season’s final week to ensure their spot in the playoffs, the Checkers got off to a good start in Rockford.
In the first game of a season-long, four-game road trip, Charlotte topped the IceHogs by a 3-0 score on Tuesday. Justin Peters made 21 saves for his seventh career AHL shutout, while Brody Sutter, Mathieu Roy and Rasmus Rissanen scored to help the Checkers end a four-game losing streak.
With the win, the Checkers now have 81 points – just one behind a group of five teams that range from sixth to 10th in the Western Conference. They have three games remaining, all of which will come in a three-day span starting with Friday’s game against eighth-place Peoria.
The Checkers now lead 5-1-1 in the eight-game season series with the division rival IceHogs, with the final game scheduled for Saturday.
Though the Checkers led for most of the game thanks to Sutter’s first professional goal just 5:46 into the first period, Peters was there when needed. His most notable saves came on a pair of good chances by Matt Fornataro soon after Sutter’s goal, and then early in the third period as the IceHogs, mathematically eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, came out strong.
The win was just Peters’ second in his last four starts, but also his second at the AHL level since Nov. 28. The shutout was his first of the season, though he also posted one with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 20.
Sutter’s early goal would turn out to be the game-winner, with his finish from the slot on a pass from defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti coming in just his fourth professional game. Prior to joining the Checkers in March following his junior career, the amateur tryout signing had 30 goals with Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League.
Defenseman Mathieu Roy would add to the lead in the second period as he intercepted a Rockford clearing attempt, came down the right side and fired a shot that went off goalie Carter Hutton’s glove and into the net. Roy’s sixth goal of the season tied his single-season career high from 2006-07 and extended his team-high point streak to three games (2g, 1a).
Roy’s goal was part of a dominant second period for the Checkers that saw them out-shot Rockford 12-5. The middle frame was easily the Checkers’ worst during their four-game losing streak, as they allowed an average of three goals.
After weathering Rockford’s counterattack in the third period, Rissanen notched his third of the season on a shot from the left point that may have changed directions as it went through traffic. That goal, assisted by Evgenii Dadonov and Justin Krueger, sealed the victory with just 3:08 remaining in regulation.
Though the Checkers finished home portion of their regular-season schedule with four straight losses, they now have three consecutive road victories as they head into their final games of the season. Tuesday’s win gives them a little breathing room in case they are unable to sweep the upcoming three-in-three set, something they have never accomplished in 15 previous attempts.
NOTES: Sutter became the third member of his family to score a goal for the Hurricanes’ top minor-league affiliate, joining cousins Brandon and Brett … The Checkers’ fourth line of Brody Sutter, Chris Durno and Matthew Pistilli was plus-2, as was the defensive pairing of Sanguinetti and Roy … Jerome Samson tied two Rockford players with a game-high four shots … The Checkers killed all five Rockford power plays … Charlotte defenseman Joe Sova was a healthy scratch, while forwards Nicolas Blanchard, Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks sat out with upper-body injuries.