HERSHEY, Pa. -- The Charlotte Checkers erased a one-goal third-period deficit with goals by Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman and held on to beat the defending champion Hershey Bears, 5-4, at Giant Center in Game 1.
With the win, the Checkers steal Hershey's home-ice advantage and lead in the best-of-seven East Division Semifinal series, 1-0. Bowman's winning tally came in his first game back from a month-long stint with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Zac Dalpe spearheaded Charlotte’s offensive attack with a goal and two assists, while Chris Terry and Brett Bellemore also scored. Winning for the first time this season against Hershey was goaltender Justin Pogge, who made 27 saves on 31 shots, including a brilliant kick save from point-blank range in the game’s final seconds.
The losing goaltender was Braden Holtby, who allowed five goals on 28 shots. Hershey’s goals were scored by Steve Pinizzotto, reigning AHL MVP Keith Aucoin, Boyd Kane and Brian Willsie.
The Bears started the back-and-forth scoring with the series’ first goal, 1:10 into the first period, when Pinizzotto made no mistake in depositing a cross-ice centering feed by Andrew Joudrey.
Just two minutes later, Dalpe scored during Charlotte’s first offensive rush of the night to tie the game, 1-1. Dalpe intercepted a pass by a Hershey defender, skated down the left-wing boards and shot, before tucking home his own rebound.
Two minutes after they tied the game, the Checkers got their first lead when Terry scored his first goal of the playoffs. Terry’s goal at 6:07 snuck past Holtby after ricocheting off a pair of Hershey defensemen. Both Dalpe and Jacob Micflikier earned assists.
Hershey’s leading scorer, Aucoin, then notched the 75th AHL playoff point of his career and re-tied the game by scoring a power-play goal with 3:26 remaining in the first period.
With the score still tied midway through the second period, a two-minute holding penalty by Bryan Rodney gave Hershey a chance to take its second lead of the game. But, it was the Checkers who capitalized during the Bears’ power play as Bellemore jumped into the play from the back line and scored a shorthanded goal off a rebound from a shot by Nicolas Blanchard.
The Bears erased another Charlotte lead as Kane’s goal at 13:11 of the second stanza knotted the teams, 3-3, after 40 minutes.
Less than two minutes into the third period, Willsie put the Bears ahead, 4-3, by rifling a slap shot over Pogge’s shoulder off a drop pass from Mathieu Perreault.
The Checkers then mounted the comeback and took their third lead of the game. Boychuk skated in and jammed in a rebound off a Dalpe shot with 11:20 left in the game before Bowman took a pass from Jon Matsumoto at the left circle and shot through Holtby’s legs just two minutes later.
The Bears pulled Holtby late in the third period and mustered a few scoring chances, but Pogge shut the door and the Checkers captured Game 1.
After two full days off, the Checkers and Bears will resume the East Division Semifinal with Game 2 Sunday at 5 p.m. (WBCN 1660AM, AHLLive.com).