How a game that showed signs of a blowout for both teams at one point or another ended up coming right down to the wire was anyone’s guess.
After the Grand Rapids Griffins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes and the Checkers stormed back to make it 5-2 in the second period, few could have predicted yet another one-goal game for the Checkers. Strangely enough, that’s how it ended with Charlotte surviving another late push by the Griffins for a 6-5 final at Time Warner Cable Arena on Tuesday.
Chris Terry led the way with 2 goals, while Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe, Sean Dolan, Jon Matsumoto, Bobby Sanguinetti all recorded multiple points as the Checkers tied their two-month-old season high for most goals in a single game.
Though happy to get the win, the feeling in the Checkers locker room after the game was one of relief more than anything.
“I don’t think either coach is going to be overly excited with the defensive effort,” said Charlotte's Jeff Daniels.
“It was a crazy game,” said defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. “I don’t think it was really how we wanted to play it.”
The Checkers, who broke a tie late in the third period to beat Grand Rapids just two days earlier, said that they expected the Griffins to come out strong but nonetheless couldn’t stop an early onslaught that saw them go down 2-0 on goals by Tomas Tatar and Louis-Marc Aubry in the first 5:40 of the game. At one point, the Griffins led 10-1 in shots, suggesting that the Checkers could be in for a long night.
“It was 2-0, but it could have easily been 4-0 or 5-0,” said Daniels.
“It just seemed like nothing was going right,” said Terry. “We weren’t ready to play.”
Something did finally go right for the Checkers when Sanguinetti, one of just two AHL regulars on the team who had yet to score his first goal of the season (Justin Krueger being the other), beat Griffins goalie Tom McCollum cleanly from the right circle on his team’s second power play of the evening to make it 2-1.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Sanguinetti, who entered the game ranked third on the team with 15 assists but had not scored a goal since April 4 of last season. “Now that the first one is down, hopefully the floodgates will open.”
Though that immediately gave the home team some much-needed life, no one could have predicted the offensive outburst that was to follow. Starting with Sanguinetti’s opener with 4:12 remaining in the first period, the Checkers scored five unanswered goals in just under eight minutes of game play on either side of the intermission to take what seemed like a commanding lead.
Two of those goals belonged to Terry, who rocketed a one-time shot past McCollum to end the first period before seeing his centering feed go off a defenseman’s skate and in on the first shift of the second, with Bowman and Dolan continuing to pour it on in the following minutes, chasing McCollum from the game in favor of Joey MacDonald.
“Any confidence helps,” said Terry, who now has 4 goals in his last three games after scoring just once in his previous 14. “I’ve scored in the last few games here and am just trying to keep putting it on net.”
With plenty of time still left on the clock, the Griffins took advantage, getting it to 5-4 before Dalpe batted his own rebound in out of midair and past MacDonald, who stabilized his team by stopping 20 of 21 shots after McCollum had saved just 10 of 15. However, Grand Rapids refused to go away, with defenseman Chris Minard, playing just his second game of the season after missing the entire first half with a concussion, scored his second goal of the contest with 2:14 remaining.
“It’s tough,” said Terry. “You think the rest might come easy, and the hardest part is keeping your focus. Unfortunately we took our foot off the gas a little bit and let them back in.”
That set the stage for a tense finish in front of the Checkers’ goal, with the buzzer mercifully sounding to secure the win.
“Not that I recall,” said Daniels when asked if he could remember having as many dramatic shifts in momentum at any other point this season. “We hadn’t scored six goals in a while, but as a coach, you don’t like these games.”
The Checkers now head on a three-game road swing that will see them depart early Wednesday morning for a two-game set in far-away Abbotsford beginning Friday. They’ll do so with two more points in their pocket – ever crucial in a Midwest Division race that is becoming tighter by the day – regardless of the adventurous route they took to acquire.
“In the second half of the season, a win is a win,” said Terry.
NOTES: Checkers defenseman Chris Murray left the game at the second intermission due to injury and did not return. Daniels did not have an immediate update on his condition … Terry’s three-game goal streak is the fifth of his career and first of this season. His career high is four games, set last season … Dalpe extended his season-high point streak to six games (5g, 3a), while Matsumoto (5a) and Sanguinetti (1g, 4a) scored for the third consecutive contest … Murphy stopped 31 of 36 shots in his sixth consecutive start, allowing a season-high five goals … Dolan, on a professional tryout contract from the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, now has 4 points (1g, 3a) in first six AHL games … Justin Kruger was a plus-2, extending his team-high mark to plus-11 … Checkers center Riley Nash returned to the lineup after missing the last five games due to injury. Chris Durno, Mathieu Roy and Justin Shugg remained out of the lineup … Fans named Terry winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Award.