It took a wild finish and some tense moments, but the Checkers will return to Charlotte with all they could have asked for on their most-recent road trip.
Jerome Samson added to his team-leading total with 2 goals and rookie John Muse made 33 saves as the Checkers left Texas with a 4-3 win on Saturday night. Coupled with Friday’s win over Oklahoma City, Charlotte earned the maximum four points on the first leg of a four-game road swing that continues next weekend.
Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti recorded an assist on Samson’s second goal, extending his team-record point streak to 10 games (4g, 9a) and ensuring that he will finish the night with at least a share of the longest active streak in the AHL. He has already tied the longest run posted by any defenseman this season, equaling an earlier 10-game streak by St. John’s Paul Postma.
That assist gave the Checkers a 3-1 lead early in the third period, which is precisely what his power-play goal had done one night earlier. On this occasion, the Stars would make things interesting, scoring shorthanded on a Checkers’ five-on-three power play with 3:03 left in regulation to make it 4-3 before forcing Muse into several key saves and even hitting a goal post with just 10 seconds left on the clock.
The win, the Checkers’ seventh in their last nine games, gives them a 2-2-0 tie in the now-concluded season series with Texas. Coupled with Chicago’s simultaneous loss in Peoria, they now enjoy a six-point lead in the Midwest Division.
Muse, a 23-year-old recalled from Florida of the ECHL to replace the Checkers’ starting tandem of Justin Peters and Mike Murphy, who are on NHL recall and out with an injury, respectively, improved to 7-1-0 at the AHL level this season. The Boston College alumnus with two NCAA national championships under his belt has a 1.67 goals-against average and .947 save percentage with the Checkers.
Muse was at his best on this night, spacing out several key saves throughout the evening. He also got help when needed, with Samson, playing his second game since returning from injury and a recall with the Carolina Hurricanes, making a key block late in the third period to prevent a sure goal.
Another player who has spent time in the NHL this season, center Zac Dalpe, opened the scoring midway through the first period when he collected a drop pass from Chris Terry in the right circle and fired a shot past NHL veteran Andrew Raycroft. However, the Stars’ Angelo Esposito would answer just over three minutes later to tie the game heading into the intermission.
Samson would then strike twice to give his team the lead, once near the end of the second and again with help from Sanguinetti in the third. His used good hand-eye coordination on the first goal that came just after the Checkers had killed a five-minute major to Zach Boychuk, as Michal Jordan’s stuff chance of an Evgenii Dadonov setup popped up for him to bat in out of mid-air. For his encore, he took a pass from Sanguinetti, who had held the puck in at the blue line, before walking his own rebound around a sprawled Raycroft for his 17th goal of the season.
Though Ryan Garbutt clawed one back on a seeing-eye shot from the left circle that found the narrowest pinch of daylight over Muse’s right shoulder with seven minutes to go, Jared Staal answered on a deflection of a Matheiu Roy point shot just 36 seconds later for what would end up as the game-winning goal, the first of Staal’s professional career.
Two consecutive high-sticking penalties by the Stars to give the Checkers a minute and a half of five-on-three time with under four minutes to play seemed to spell the end of the game, but Travis Morin beat Muse with a low shot to give his team life. It nearly paid off, but Charlotte was narrowly able to keep them off the board for long enough to secure the win despite being out-shot 18-7 in the final period.
The Checkers now return home for a week of practice before beginning a three-in-three set that begins Friday with road games in Milwaukee and Peoria before they return home to face Norfolk on Sunday.
NOTES: The Checkers went 0-for-5 on the man advantage, ending a team-record streak of nine consecutive games with a power-play goal. They finished the season series with Texas without a power-play goal in 20 opportunities … Roy was playing his first game since Jan. 4, as he missed 12 games with a lower-body injury. Joe Sova sat out to make room for his return … Staal’s goal was his first since Dec. 11, ending a 14-game drought … Justin Soryal earned an assist for the third consecutive game … Fifteen of Boychuk’s 36 penalty minutes this season have come in his last two games (5 minor penalties, one major penalty).