The Checkers will take the end result of a split in the first two games of their first-round series in Oklahoma City, but they could have had so much more.
After out-shooting the Barons 17-3 and jumping out to a 2-0 lead after just 11 minutes, the Checkers allowed the Barons to score the next five goals, including a natural hat trick by Mark Arcobello in the third period, to win Game 2 on Saturday. Sean Dolan and Zach Boychuk scored early goals for Charlotte, with Rob Madore making 26 saves.
The series now heads back to Charlotte, where the higher-seeded Checkers will enjoy home-ice advantage for the remainder of the best-of-five series. Game 3 takes place Wednesday at Time Warner Cable Arena, with Games 4 and 5 scheduled for the following Friday and Saturday, the latter to be played only if necessary.
Against a Barons team playing what was essentially a must-win game given the format of the series and the result from Game 1, a 4-3 overtime win for the Checkers, Charlotte could not have asked for a better start. Though the visitors did not score on their first power-play opportunity after bagging two man-advantage goals the night before, Dolan, playing his first game since suffering an injury on March 10, struck on the next shift by tipping in a point shot by Justin Krueger.
Referees initially signaled no goal following the play, but later overturned that call following a brief video review.
Less than two minutes later, Boychuk scored a breakaway goal against Barons goalie Yann Danis, marking his fifth goal in his last five games as the Checkers threatened to run away with the rest of the game, and, potentially, the series. The start was in sharp contrast to Game 1, in which the Checkers trailed 1-0 while falling behind 13-5 in shots on goal after the first period.
Visions of a short series may have affected the rest of the Checkers performance, as their shots total from the game s first 11 minutes (17) nearly equaled their output for the final 49 (18). Any chances the Checkers did muster, including a point-blank Chris Terry attempt late in the first period, were thwarted by Danis, the 2011-12 AHL goaltender of the year who had allowed three or fewer goals in 19 consecutive games prior to Game 1.
Former NHL goal-scoring champion Jonathan Cheechoo swung the momentum in the Barons favor with 3:08 left in the first period, depositing a rebound after Madore had made a good initial save.
It took Oklahoma City the majority of the second period to tie the game, when Tyler Pitlick teed up a drop pass for Randy Jones to one-time from the top of the faceoff circle past an unobstructed Madore with 1:30 remaining.
From there, it was all Barons as Arcobello took over, giving his team its first lead of the game midway through the third period. The goal was originally credited to Cheechoo, who the Checkers presumed guilty of scoring on a kicking motion. However, an official review concluded that Arcobello s shot did not make contact with Cheechoo s outstretched skate, making that a moot point.
With the Checkers pressing for the tying goal in the final five minutes, a strategy that nearly paid off as they began to apply more sustained pressure than they had since their fast start, Arcobello finished a nice passing play with Jones and Toni Rajala as the three found considerable space in the Checkers zone. The Barons All-Star and scoring leader from the regular season (68 points in 74 games to finish tied for third in the AHL points race) capped his hat trick with an empty-net goal with 1:43 left in regulation.
Arcobello also assisted on Cheechoo s goal, giving him a four-point night and five points for the playoffs, which leads all AHL players. His plus-4 rating (entirely from Saturday s game) and 13 shots on goal (including nine on Saturday) also lead all league skaters.
Dating back to the regular season, the two South Division rivals, who finished just one point apart from each other in the final standings, have now won five games apiece.
After combining for three power-play goals in Game 1, the teams were a combined 0-for-5 on the man advantage in Game 2. Both of Oklahoma City s chances came in the same sequence, overlapping for a 53-second, two-man advantage in the second period that the Checkers escaped while allowing just one shot.