It was a game that seemed eerily similar to the one before it, with the important distinction of the end result.
For the second time in as many nights, the Checkers allowed the visiting Rockford IceHogs back into the game after controlling the first half, this time surrendering a two-goal advantage in an eventual 3-2 regulation loss. Just as he did on Thursday, the IceHogs’ Peter LeBlanc scored two goals to lead the rally, but the Checkers were unable survive as they had in the previous night’s shootout victory.
Bobby Sanguinetti and Rasmus Rissanen scored for Charlotte, which came up empty-handed in front of a record crowd of 13,021 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Rookie goaltender John Muse made 27 saves but suffered his first loss at the AHL level, bringing his record to 6-1-0.
The game, the sixth meeting between the two clubs this season, marked the first time Charlotte had failed to earn a point against their Midwest Division rivals. It was also the third consecutive time that Rockford had erased a deficit of two or more goals against the Checkers, though Charlotte won the previous two instances in a shootout.
The Checkers had different theories as to why they allowed the comebacks, but fatigue was a common theme.
“We’re getting into a bad habit of letting teams back into games,” said Chris Terry, whose team has lost a league-high six games in regulation when leading after two periods. “Last night we got lucky, but tonight we couldn’t catch up.”
“We’ve had a tough week,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We played in Abbotsford and had to go across the country to get there, and we’ve just had a lot of games in a short amount of time”
The game started off brightly when the Checkers killed off a lengthy five-on-three power play and went on to score a man-advantage goal of their own that would tie or break a handful of team records in a single play. With Terry setting up the goal by Bobby Sanguinetti, both players extended their point streaks to eight games, tying Terry’s record set earlier this season. It also marked the Checkers’ eighth consecutive game with a power play goal, breaking a record set last season.
Terry now has 15 points (4g, 11a) in his last eight games, while Sanguinetti has 12, including all four of his goals this season.
“This is probably the best I’ve seen Sangs play,” said Daniels, who has coached the fifth-year pro since the beginning of last season. “He’s got everything he needs to be that offensive defenseman he wants to be and you’re seeing that now.”
For Sanguinetti, who missed the bulk of last season due to hip surgery and a further 10 games with a broken foot this campaign, it may just be a matter of getting back up to speed.
“It’s definitely tough to get back,” said the former first-round draft choice of his long rehab experience. “That’s no excuse at all, but I feel like I’m really finding my stride now.”
Fellow blueliner Rasmus Rissanen would put the Checkers up 2-0 in the second period, as his shot from the point took a fortunate hop on the ice as it headed toward goalie Alec Richards and popped in over his right shoulder. The goal marked just the second time two Charlotte defensemen have scored in the same game, as Sanguinetti and Justin Krueger first did so in Abbotsford exactly one week earlier.
In between those two goals, a golden chance to add to the lead didn’t come to fruition, as the Checkers, who had converted each of their last four power play attempts at that point after having gone three-for-three on Thursday, had three minutes of time on the man advantage on a major penalty to Rockford defenseman Ben Youds early in the second period.
The opportunity came due to an unfortunate circumstance, as Youds had boarded Checkers forward Zac Dalpe from behind, causing him to leave the game and not return. After the game, Daniels said it was too early to give a definitive update on Dalpe’s condition, but it did not appear to be serious.
The absence of Dalpe and Drayson Bowman, who earned a five-minute fighting major and 12 more penalty minutes for instigating as he challenged Youds following the hit, contributed to the lack of success on that particular man advantage.
“I don’t think we ever got set up on that one when we lost Dalpe and Bowman was in the box,” said Daniels. “Give (Rockford) credit for getting the job done there.”
Just 1:01 after Rissanen’s goal at the near-exact midpoint of the game, LeBlanc continued that trend, scoring the first of his two goals on a low shot from the point on a power play. He would add another on a sharp-angle rebound to tie the game in the third period, making him responsible for four of the IceHogs’ six goals in the two-game series. Prior that run, he did not have a point in his previous nine contests.
Defenseman Dylan Olsen would score the winner just 2:37 after LeBlanc’s equalizer, taking a shot from the point that went through traffic and went in off the inside of the post over Muse’s left shoulder.
The Checkers had a few chances to come back, most notably on a power play with 2:52 remaining that saw them pin Rockford in the zone in a six-on-four situation with Muse pulled for the extra attacker, but the tying goal could not be found.
“I don’t know if they changed anything (on the penalty kill), but we sure didn’t,” said Terry. “We were just trying to keep it simple.”
“We were just not getting the bounces,” said Daniels.
The Checkers, with the exception of Terry, now head into a week-long break for the AHL All-Star Classic. They return to action for Friday’s road game against Oklahoma City, the AHL’s No. 1 team.
NOTES: The Checkers’ annual Race Night promotion raised $14,500 for charity … Bowman earned an assist on Sanguinetti’s goal, giving him 8 points (3g, 5a) in his last six games … Richards was making his first start since Jan. 11 … The Checkers fell to 11-4-1 against the Midwest this season and to 15-7-3 on home ice … Jared Staal was a healthy scratch for Charlotte, while Chris Durno, Mike Murphy, Chris Murray, Mathieu Roy and Justin Shugg sat out due to injury … Fans voted Muse as the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.