Checkers playoff hopes hang in balance


by Paul Branecky / Charlotte Checkers

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 11:18 AM

Having missed the opportunity to seal their own destiny, the Checkers are left to wait and hope.

Needing just a single point to qualify for the playoffs in the final game of the regular season, Charlotte lost 6-1 to the now-playoff-bound Milwaukee Admirals on Sunday. As a result, the Checkers’ only chance to qualify is for Houston to lose to Texas – a game that was still in progress as theirs ended.

Jerome Samson scored his team’s only goal and Justin Peters made 24 saves for Charlotte, which lost for the only time during its four-game road trip to end the campaign. Previously, three straight wins had put the Checkers back in the drivers’ seat heading into the final day.

The game was not quite as lopsided as the final score would suggest, as the Checkers trailed 4-1 before Jani Lajunen scored into the empty net with 4:05 left in regulation as coach Jeff Daniels, knowing the high stakes, pulled Peters for the extra attacker with plenty of time to spare. Taylor Beck then added a power-play goal with 1:32 remaining to seal the win.

That being said, the Checkers weren’t able to generate the required amount of offense against goalie Jeremy Smith and the Admirals, who beat Charlotte three times in the season’s final two weeks. The Checkers finished with just 19 shots on goal, including four in the third period.

After the Admirals jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a Ryan Tyang goal late in the first period and a Brodie Dupont goal early in the second that came partially due to an uncharacteristic slew of penalties by the visitors, Samson appeared to get his team back into the game with his power play goal near the game’s halfway point.

With Milwaukee defenseman Teemu Laakso in the box for interference, Samson took a cross-ice pass from Drayson Bowman and buried a one-timer behind Smith. The goal was Samson’s 20th of the season, which trailed only Zach Boychuk’s 21. It was also his team-leading ninth power-play goal.

However, Thang would restore the two-goal lead early in the third period when he wound up and blasted a slap shot past Peters from the right circle. Other than the fact that Dupont’s goal came from the left side, the two goals were nearly identical in their execution as each player rushed into the Checkers zone and fired away with nothing between them and the goalie.

Five minutes later, Ryan Flynn put the nail in the coffin when his shot went off the skate of Charlotte defenseman Rasmus Rissanen with 7:44 to play.

The result broke the Checkers’ five-game winning streak on the road and also prevented them from sweeping a set of playing three games in three days for the first time in their two-year history. Milwaukee was also playing for the third time in as many days, as it won in overtime in Chicago on Saturday.

Should the eliminated Texas Stars pull the upset over Houston, Charlotte would play the first two games of a first-round series against Oklahoma City at the PNC Center in Raleigh later this week. Charlotte won its season series against the No. 1 Barons with a record of 5-1-2.

NOTES: Charlotte finished the season series against the division rival Admirals with a record of 4-4-0 … Though they allowed two goals on seven power play chances, the Checkers successfully killed over a minute of a five-on-three power play in the first period and a double-minor for high-sticking to Rissanen that carried over from the first to the second period … Bobby Sanguinetti recorded an assist on Samson’s goal, extending his point streak to five games (1g, 6a) and giving him 44 points in the last 44 games of the season … Amateur tryout signings Brian Dumoulin and Brody Sutter sat out as healthy scratches, while forwards Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks missed the game with upper-body injuries.