Thursday night's game showed that the Binghamton Senators have some serious offensive firepower. Friday, they showed that they have a pretty stout defense to go with that offensive cavalry.
Behind a 35-save shutout from Robin Lehner, the Senators took a 2-0 series lead after beating the Charlotte Checkers 3-0 on Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Checkers now face the prospect of climbing out of their two-game deficit with the next three games on the road, a place no one wants to be and a place the Checkers haven't found themselves yet this postseason.
Before the game, there was a loud ovation for the late Donnie MacMillian, with plenty of Canes fans in attendance and the Hurricanes' front office brass in the building. It was a neat moment, not only in the memory of such a beloved member of the Hurricanes' family but showing how tied together these two franchises have become in a short time.
The Checkers came out behind the eight-ball from the start, having to kill a questionable Brett Sutter interference penalty just 1:40 into the game - a sign of things to come, as the Checkers took eight penalties on the night to the Sens' four. Despite that, the Checkers held it together until the final minute, when the Sens came down the ice on an odd-man rush and Bobby Sanguinetti was caught in no-man's land, not sure whether to play the pass or the shot. He played neither, and Ryan Keller threaded an easy pass to Ryan Potulny, who put the Sens on the board at 19:16 with his league-leading 12th of the postseason.
A Riley Nash slashing penalty carried over to the second period, and the Sens struck early on the same combination. Keller took a bad-angle shot from the goal line, and it was tipped home by Potulny at :29 through Mike Murphy's five-hole. Later in the period, Brett Sutter appeared to put the Checkers on the board at 15:53, but instead he was sent off to the penalty box for cross-checking his way to the front of the net. It was a good call, though that didn't do anything to mollify the angry crowd of 6,532 who let their displeasure be known, loudly, to referees Ghislain Hebert and Ryan Fraser.
Jeff Daniels started shaking up the lines in the third, and it nearly paid off when Drayson Bowman set the table for Zac Dalpe with a beautiful drop pass off an inadvertent pick by a linesman preventing the Senators from covering Dalpe, but emblematic of the way the night went Dalpe whiffed on the shot. Bobby Butler then put the Sens up 3-0 on a broken play that summed up the night for the Checkers - Corey Locke was centering to no one in particular, but it bounced off Dalpe and right to Butler, who fired a 20-foot slapper that Murphy had no chance on.
With :32 to go, Nicolas Blanchard showed the first emotion of the night for Charlotte, earning a misconduct penalty after a scuffle behind the net with Cody Bass. It was too little, too late for the Checkers, who now head to New York and will need to win two games to return the series to Charlotte a week from Monday.
- The Checkers seemed to be skating in quicksand most of the night. There was no energy, no jump and very little push back against a relentless Binghamton backcheck until it was far too late.
- That said, the Checkers could have been in the game if a couple bounces had gone their way. A Bryan Rodney shot on a second-period power play beat Lehner and trickled about an inch outside the far post. What if Sutter doesn't cross-check his man out of the way and just shoves him down instead? What if Oskar Osala was healthy all night instead of playing hurt after blocking a shot five minutes in?
- Mike Murphy could only have been blamed on the second-period power play goal, and he more than redeemed himself by stopping a shorthanded 2-on-none later in the second. He was far from the problem tonight.
- The line juggling produced a scary defensive pairing of Justin Faulk and Bobby Sanguinetti late in the game. Against a team as explosive as Binghamton, that's begging for trouble. I would be very surprised if that pairing stays together unless the Checkers are trailing late in the next few games, as was the case tonight.
- Kudos to Nicolas Blanchard for sending a message late, but the Checkers have enough sandpaper types - Sutter, Bryan Rodney, Brad Herauf - that it shouldn't have taken 59:32 of game time to get to that point.
Click for postgame audio from Bryan Rodney, Chris Terry and Jeff Daniels. The Checkers now head to Binghamton for the next week, with game 3 of the series set for Monday night. If the Checkers can win two out of three in New York, they'll return to Charlotte for game six on Monday, May 23.