After a few days of riding high from a successful weekend road trip, the Checkers quickly fell to earth upon their return home.
In the first of two meetings between the two clubs at Time Warner Cable Arena this week, the Milwaukee Admirals took a convincing 4-0 win over the Checkers on Tuesday. The visitors pulled away with a three-goal second period and never looked back, with goalie Jeremy Smith making 31 saves to record his fifth shutout of the season.
Though the Checkers had endured some hard times prior to recording much-needed victories over Grand Rapids and Peoria just days earlier, they had been reasonably pleased with their effort throughout the last month. Asked about the team’s effort against Milwaukee, coach Jeff Daniels told a different story.
“There wasn’t any,” he said.
“I thought our start was good, but then the power play didn’t connect on a few chances and it was downhill from there fast.”
True enough, the Checker did out-shoot Milwaukee 13-6 after the initial 20 minutes, including an 8-1 lead at the midway point that came courtesy of two separate man advantages gained in the first six minutes. Their inability to generate the required amount of quality chances would come back to haunt them, as the Admirals forced Murphy into a few good saves before the intermission before breaking the game open in the second.
Before the middle frame was four minutes old, Milwaukee had struck twice on goals by Taylor Beck and Kyle Wilson just 52 seconds apart. The first came on their first power play of the evening on a rebound goal, while the second was the result of an oddly-executed, two-on-one break in which Murphy made a nice blocker save on Ryan Thang, only to see the puck rebound off Wilson’s chest and into the net.
“That pretty much summed up my night right there,” said Murphy, who finished with 34 saves.
The Checkers never threatened to make a serious comeback from that point as Milwaukee continued to apply pressure, particularly during a lopsided stretch in the beginning of the third period that stifled any would-be comeback attempts. Wilson’s second goal, an impressive shot that beat Murphy to the short side late in the second period, and Ryan Flynn’s tally in the third that came on his third attempt at his own rebound were more than enough to seal the victory.
“There isn’t one guy in that room that should be happy with their effort tonight,” said Daniels.
“We changed our game and quit listening to our coaches,” said Murphy. “We all need to be better individually.”
For the Checkers, the result, or more accurately the play that led to the result, came as a surprise after the team seemed to have turned a corner with big weekend victories that had propelled them from eighth to fifth in a tight Western Conference race. Though Tuesday’s result won’t affect their place in the standings for the time being, it did bring Milwaukee, a team trying to get back into the playoff playoff picture, to within three points.
Asked if the recent wins had played a part in the weakened effort, Daniels and his players couldn’t be sure.
“It shouldn’t,” said Daniels. “We’re a desperate team, and we put the standings up in that room for a reason. They should be able to see who we’re chasing and who’s chasing us.”
“You would think it wouldn’t happen with the character we have in that room, but maybe we were a little too relaxed,” said Murphy. “There’s your wake-up call.”
The Checkers now have seven games remaining, two of which will come against the Admirals. The second is the final game of the regular season on April 15, but first, the teams will conclude the Charlotte leg of their season series with a rematch on Thursday.
“It’s the time of year you’ve got to just put one behind you and go to the next,” said Checkers captain Brett Sutter. “They’re big points, because if they win on Thursday they’re right behind us.”
In response to a query about what his team needed to do differently for that game, Daniels’ response was predictably blunt.
“We need to show up,” he said.
NOTES: Checkers defenseman Rasmus Rissanen left the game in the third period and did not return. Daniels listed his status as day-to-day … Smith will miss Thursday’s game as he serves a one-game suspension for his role in a bench-clearing brawl against Rockford on Sunday. Teammate Michael Latta missed Tuesday’s game and will also not play Thursday as part of a three-game suspension … Jerome Samson had a game-high seven shots, including six in the first period … Chris Terry’s six-game point streak (3g, 6a) came to an end … Brody Sutter made his professional debut for Charlotte … Forwards Nicolas Blanchard and A.J. Jenks and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti missed the game due to injury.