Charlotte, NC There was no handshake line in Charlotte on Friday night as the Checkers found themselves on the wrong side of a tight, 1-0 contest at Time Warner Cable Arena in game five of the best of seven series against the Wilkes/Barre Penguins.
The Checkers had defeated the visitors by the exact same score in game four. They hold a 3-2 advantage as the series resumes in Wilkes/Barre on Saturday night.
The only score of the game was on a deflection by Chris Collins midway through the third period. At the time of the goal, Checkers goalie Mike Murphy felt Collins' stick might have been above the crossbar, which of course would negate the goal, but the refs disagreed and the goal stood.
The Checkers put on a nice flurry the rest of the game and came very close to scoring on a few occasions, but Pens goalie Brad Thiessen turned in another solid performance and earned his second shutout of the series.
Coach Jeff Daniels seemed a bit disappointed with his team's performance in the first two periods and said after the game that he wanted them to play the way they did later in the third period, when they face these same opponents for game six.
The Pens played with the desperation of a team on the brink of elimination and it appeared that the Checkers failed to match that intensity early on. While the Pens were racking up more shots on goal in every period, (15-6 in first period alone), the Checkers did generate a few decent scoring chances, but could not convert.
Oskar Osala hit the post midway through the first, and another Charlotte attempt got behind Thiessen late in the game and hit both posts, fooling most of the 6,848 attending fans into thinking that the score was tied.
But it was not meant to be as the Pens held onto their shutout and extended the series to another game.
A few thoughts and observations:
- Perhaps I was not keeping close enough tabs, but it looked like Jeff Daniels was mixing the forward lines pretty liberally. The game started with Sutter, Dalpe, and Boychuk together. Later in the game, Dalpe was with Osala and Bowman, and Boychuk was with Blanchard and Nash, and Sutter was with Matsumoto and Micflikier.
- Mike Murphy looked like the real deal in net. He seemed fully under control and made at least a couple of grade A, post-to-post saves when needed. In the last three games, he's made 101 saves on 103 shots. (That's over a .981 save percentage). In this series, he has 157 saves on 163 shots.
- When your goalie is hot, that usually means your penalty kill is pretty good as well. Charlotte's PK is the number one rated unit in the AHL playoffs this postseason. They have killed 30 of 30 penalties at home and 51 of 54 overall.
- Defenseman and team captain Bryan Rodney played a much more physical game than I remember seeing him play in the past. He bodied one Penguin nicely away from Murphy on one play, and had a couple of nice hits on other plays.
- Speaking of playing physical, Osala also had a few nice hits and some good, hard-nosed play. He came close to scoring a couple of times near the front of the net.
- Justin Faulk also stood out to me. He has a good, quick stick and broke up some passes using that skill. He did well at the point on the powerplay and got a shot or two through to the net. He seems to be positionally sound, for being a newcomer and has already earned top-pairing with Rodney.
Nicolas Blanchard had a decent breakaway chance when he broke free while killing a penalty, but Thiessen made the save.
- In a 1-0 game of course, there aren't going to be a ton of offensive standouts. Dalpe, Bowman, and Boychuk, as well as others on the team, had a few chances but in general they had a tough time of it in this game.
Bobby Sanguinetti looked like a forward a couple of times as he was attacking the net or chasing the puck down to an offensive corner. He also played well on defense.
- All-in-all in was not necessarily a bad game by the home team, they just were not as desperate as their opponents on this particular night and they did not get any bounces to help them out.
Post game interviews: