The Checkers finished their regular season on a high note, allowing them to begin their postseason with home ice advantage.
Five different Checkers – Justin Shugg, Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Jeremy Welsh and Brett Sutter – scored goals and Rob Madore made 35 saves for his second shutout of the season as the Checkers took a 5-0 victory in Peoria on Saturday. They now head into the playoffs with points in six of their last seven games (3-0-3).
With the win, Charlotte is assured of finishing as the fourth seed in the Western Conference. It will face either Houston or Oklahoma City, with those teams clashing Sunday in a game that will determine who ends up as the fifth seed.
The Checkers will begin the playoffs with two games at their opponent’s location next weekend before returning to Charlotte to continue the best-of-five series with Game 3 on Wednesday, May 1 (tickets on sale Monday at 10 a.m.). Games 4 and 5 would be played at Time Warner Cable Arena on the following Friday and Saturday, if necessary.
Though the Checkers missed a chance to earn home-ice advantage one night earlier in Milwaukee, Saturday’s game was rarely in doubt as they improved to 13-2-1 all-time against Peoria, including 7-0-1 this season. Shugg’s first-period, power-play goal, in which he inadvertently redirected a Matt Beca point shot into the net with his skate, ended up being the game-winner as the Checkers continued to apply pressure against a non-playoff team.
Dalpe, Boychuk, and Welsh, each of whom also scored goals on Friday, kept the eventual rout going when Dalpe banked a Brett Sutter pass off his stick and past rookie netminder Paul Karpowich, who was playing just his second career AHL game, near the end of the first. Boychuk and Welsh then scored 35 seconds apart in period two, with Boychuk finishing a nice feed from Dalpe and Welsh putting home the result of a tic-tac-toe passing play involving linemates Shugg and Matt Marquardt.
Sutter then notched his 19th of the season in the third period to complete the scoring. Having recorded four points in the Checkers’ last visit to Peoria on Tuesday, Sutter then missed a chance to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in six professional seasons when he rang a shot off the post in the game’s final minute.
Sutter and Boychuk were chief culprits in the Checkers’ highly-successful season series against the Rivermen, with each player finishing with 12 points (7g, 5a) in eight games.
Checkers scoring leader Chris Terry assisted on Sutter’s goal, allowing him to finish the regular season with a 10-game road point streak (4g, 9a) dating back to Feb. 22, which ties the longest streak posted by any AHL player this season. He also has an overall six-game point streak (1g, 6a).
Though Madore was not tested nearly as often as in some of his previous starts – he had faced 40 or more shots in four of his previous seven starts at the AHL level – the performance may have been enough to give him the necessary leg up on teammates John Muse and Mike Murphy in the race to be the team’s playoff starter.
In his first nine games at the AHL level, Madore, a 24-year-old rookie from the University of Vermont, is 5-3-0 with a 1.83 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.