The Charlotte Checkers were lit up early and often tonight. Photo by LTD.
And now for something completely different.
Shortly past the half-way mark of the opening game of the AHL's Eastern Conference Final, goaltender Justin Pogge skated to the Checkers crease, his first appearance in the post-season since Game 2 in Hershey, which frankly, seems like eons ago. Remarkably, he was the 4th goalie to appear tonight, and at the time there were eight goals already on the scoreboard overhead, with the Binghamton Senators ahead by a score of 5-3.
As many have observed the Senators are nothing like the teams the Checkers have faced and eliminated in the first two series of their Calder Cup run. Whereas rounds one (vs Hershey Bears) and two (vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins) featured tight checking, overcrowded neutral zones, countless blocked shots, and a scrum following every whistle, tonight the home team encountered tremendous transition play, sudden turnovers, speedy rushes with brilliant passing, and a healthy display of sniping skill from all four lines the Sens put out.
And not that Charlotte didn't respond in kind, having chased the highly-touted Sens netminder Robin Lehner as well, with Barry Brust taking over after the first intermission with the Sens up 4-3. The Checkers, to a man, seemed to find their defensive discipline that had mesmerized the fans in last week's three home games vs the Baby Pens, where they allowed only 2 goals in 183 minutes of play. In the middle period tonight, the Sens only managed 3 shots on goal, and not a one on Pogge in the final 8 1/2 minutes before the second intermission.
But the thrill of the run-and-gun returned by the final stanza, and this time it wasn't the Checkers shocking their opponents with their offensive explosiveness we remember with those 4-goal third periods in key games of each of the previous series. With about 13 minutes remaining, Oskar Osala deflected a Chris Terry shot, right in front of Brust on a 5-on-3 power play, to bring Charlotte within one, at 5-4. Momentum had shifted and it was a new ballgame. But instead of witnessing another comeback, some 3+ minutes later, the Sens responded not once, scoring their 6th, but twice, tacking on the extra point only 29 seconds later, putting it away with a final score of 7-4.
Post game comments
After the game, Head Coach Jeff Daniels was disappointed in the way his team performed tonight, but was unconcerned that his team would be outmatched throughout the series. Just a matter of playing like they had the last month instead, with a hard checking gutsy effort that had gotten them this far.
"We weren't very sharp in any area, right from the get-go..... You win defensively when all 5 or 6 guys on the ice are doing their job defensively and tonight we didn't do that.... We know we can be better, the guys in the room know we can be better."
About the nature of a Game 1: "It's always a feeling out process, but again we played pretty loose in the first period, we were making mistakes we hadn't made in a month or so. We'll show them the video and correct some things, and I expect tomorrow will be a lower scoring game, a little tighter checking."
When asked if it was hard to pull Murphy, Daniels replied "Well, yeah, he's played so well over a long stretch of time and... a couple little things... he was getting hung out to dry," going on to indicate with the back-to-back nights, by getting relieved early, Murphy would be better prepared and fresh for tomorrow's Game 2.
Mike Murphy has carried the team through much of the last month, putting up ridiculous numbers night after night. Tonight's stats are more a reflection of very little attention from his teammates to clear the crease and get those rebounds out of the danger zone. Casey Borer was particularly strong on both counts, including on several penalty kills.
About putting the game behind him: "It's a good opportunity because we play tomorrow.. It's great that we don't play five days from now. Hopefully we'll come out with a great effort tomorrow night and grab the next game"
About the Sens offensive skills compared to the last series, "We knew they had done really well against some great goaltending... They're a really confident hockey team; they know where each other are on the ice, they're not looking before the pass, they're just passing and knowing that's where the other guy is. We're playing in the Conference Finals against a great team and that's what you'd expect."
Riley Nash tallied his first goal of the post season and added 2 assists. He was recognized as the third star of the game. Later, asked about the quick turn-around with Game 2 on Friday night, he told us "After a game like that, you need to forget about it. We have a lot of character guys in there and we definitely will bring our A game tomorrow."
- Shots on goal were running at about twice the goals scored early on (it was 6-4 Sens when the score was 3-2) but was tied at 12 after 20 minutes. After that, the numbers tilted to the Checkers advantage with a final tally of 40 to 22. That's right, the Sens scored 7 goals on 22 shots. (Murphy: 5 goals on 15 shots, Pogge: 2 goals on 7.)
- Penalties were frequent and the refs seemed to want to get the most out of the experience themselves. Tightly called for the most part, the infractions were mostly of the tripping, hooking and slashing variety, and led to several 4-on-4, and 5-on-3 chances both ways. This certainly interfered with the flow and the lines for both benches. The Checkers were called for 7 minors, and the Senators for 8. The Sens scored one PP goal and one Short-handed. The Checkers got 2 on the PP, including Nash's and Osala's.
- Both Brad Herauf and Riley Nash had their first playoff goals tonight. The other Checkers goals were from Zac Dalpe and Oskar Osala. The Checkers have not had a goal from a defenseman since Brett Bellemore scored in the first game of the Hershey series April 14th.
- Justin Faulk found out that there are teams in professional hockey that bring speed and skill at a level he's likely not seen much of as a 19-year-old rookie, fresh out of the NCAA. He finished -4. Drayson Bowman, Jon Matsumoto, Bryan Rodney and Matthew Pistilli were all -3. Got to hand it to Casey Borer who finished +2, though he was on the ice for the Sen's PP goal as well.
- Attendance was listed at just 3879 ( a strong number by AHL weeknight standards), but we can expect nearly double that Friday. Most of the Hurricanes front office staff was on hand watching from above.
Other sources and recaps
(these open best with Quicktime as they are not .mp3's):
Game 2 tomorrow night at 7:05 in Charlotte and will be carried on Time Warner channel 520 again and on Sirius/XM Radio Home Ice channel. The first 2000 through the doors will get an ECF Rally towel.