If fatigued from their most grueling road stretch of the season, the Checkers didn’t show it.
Charlotte jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead and never relented in an eventual 4-2 win in Norfolk on Tuesday. John Muse, pressed into a spot start as expected starter Mike Murphy was injured during warm-ups, made 29 saves to improve to 4-0-0 this season with support from goal scorers Brett Sutter, Drayson Bowman, Matthew Pistilli and Evgenii Dadonov.
The win gave the Checkers four points out of a possible six in a three-game swing that began Friday with back-to-back games in western Canada. It also opened up a three-point lead in the standings for the GEICO Challenge Cup, which will be awarded at the end of the season to the team with the most points in the eight-game season series between the regional rivals.
Muse, a rookie recalled from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades in December who earned his first AHL shutout on Friday, now has a 0.81 goals-against average and .976 save percentage in four appearances for the Checkers this season. No immediate update was available on Murphy, who was poised to make his second consecutive start.
Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti (2a) and forward Chris Terry (1a) each extended their personal point streaks to six games. Since Jan. 12, Sanguinetti has posted 10 points (3g, 7a), while Terry, named to the AHL All-Star Classic earlier in the day, has 12 (4g, 8a).
Both of Sanguinetti’s points came on the power play as the Checkers went 2-for-8 on the man advantage. They now have man-advantage goals in six consecutive games, a new season high, having converted 10 of 32 opportunities during that span (31.3 percent).
Sutter, in his third game back with Charlotte following a stint with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, opened the scoring when he batted the rebound of a Dadonov shot out of midair and past Norfolk goalie Jaroslav Janus at 7:19 of the opening period. The assist marked the first point as a Checker for Dadonov, who was playing his third game with the team following the Hurricanes’ trade with Florida last week.
Bowman added a second on the power play just over six minutes later, giving him three goals in his last four games following a seven-game drought at the AHL level. That goal, the Checkers’ first power-play tally of the night, came when he redirected a hard pass by Sanguinetti past Janus, who was starting for just the second time in Norfolk’s last seven games.
Though the Admirals’ Philip-Michael Devos clawed one back in the second period to make it 2-1, Pistilli would restore the two-goal lead by collecting his own rebound from the left circle and stuffing it past Janus, who had lost track of the puck. Thanks to a consolation goal by Norfolk’s Eric Neilson with 10 seconds left in regulation, Pistilli earned his third game-winner of the season, tying him with Zach Boychuk and Jerome Samson for the team lead.
Prior to Neilson’s effort, Dadonov had scored an empty-net marker, his first goal as a Checker to make it 4-1 with 1:05 remaining. That gave him his second multi-point game of the season, as he previously recorded a two-goal game with San Antonio on Nov. 5.
The Checkers will now enjoy a day off on Wednesday before opening a two-game set against Rockford at home the following day. Those will be the team’s final games heading into the six-day All-Star break.
NOTES: The Checkers have won three consecutive games against Norfolk, improving to 3-1-1 in the season series. The final three games will take place in Charlotte … Defenseman Joe Sova, acquired via the Hurricanes’ trade of Alexei Ponikarovsky to New Jersey last week, made his Checkers debut … Sanguinetti’s point streak extends his career high, with Terry still two games shy of trying his career high that was set earlier this season … Sanguinetti had a three-game goal streak snapped. It tied Terry for the longest of any Checker this season … Zac Dalpe played for Charlotte, taking two shots, after the Hurricanes reassigned him earlier in the day … Defenseman Ryan Donald and forward Jared Staal were healthy scratches for Charlotte.