There were more than two points in the AHL standings on the line Sunday in Raleigh. It had been nine months and one day since PNC Arena hosted professional hockey, and with the NHL and NHLPA reaching a tentative agreement in the early hours of the day, the cross-state visit from the Charlotte Checkers proved a nice primer for the pending — albeit shortened — NHL season.
Zac Dalpe stole the show in the second half of the game, scoring a shorthanded goal and assisting on the Checkers' final tally in Charlotte's 3-1 win over Norfolk in front of 10,256 fans.
It was an audition of sorts for Dalpe and others who hope to crack the Carolina lineup when the truncated NHL schedule begins some time in the next two weeks.
"It was a bit of an adjustment period for him," Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said of Dalpe's move from center to win this season. "He just to learn playing the right side there. ... He's been at his best the last month or so. He was definitely jumping tonight."
Veteran goaltender Dan Ellis allowed a power play goal in the first period, but was perfect after that in defeating Norfolk's Frederik Andersen — a seventh-round selection by the Hurricanes in the 2010 draft who opted to re-enter the draft this past summer rather than sign with Carolina, going to Anaheim in the third round.
"To come out and play a game [with the] announcement of [the end] of an NHL lockout in an NHL building with NHL fans and American League fans, it was a great start to the new post-lockout era," Ellis said.
With Brian Boucher injured, Ellis will surely be considered — along with fellow Checkers netminder Justin Peters — for the backup job behind Cam Ward in Carolina once the season gets under way.
"It's been a good start to the year, and I'm thankful the Checkers have given me an opportunity to play and to get back into shape and to prove myself again," Ellis, who battled through nearly a year's worth of groin and hernia injuries, said. "It's been a great ride and we'll see where it takes us. You never know,"
Charlotte had to go without captain Brett Sutter for the game's final 50 minutes after he received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for a boarding Norfolk's Jordan Hendry behind the Admirals' net at 9:48 of the first period. That led to the Admiral's lone goal when Kyle Palmieri collected a rebound and fired a shot from the slot that was deflected in by Patrick Maroon for a 1-0 lead.
But the Checkers killed off the remaining four-plus minutes of the Sutter major and resumed controlling the pace of play. Late in the second the Checkers finally broke through, with Dalpe charging in on a shorthanded 2-on-1 and firing the puck past Andersen to tie the game.
Chris Terry then gave the Checkers the lead at 2:21 of the third when he coasted across the front of the net and waited out Andersen and slid the puck past the Admirals goalie for a 2-1 lead. Dalpe then sealed the game by stealing the puck in the Norfolk corner and setting up Jerome Samson at Andersen's doorstep.
• The eyes watching from above weren't missed by first-year pro Jeremy Welsh: "Everyone knows the brass is all here so everyone is trying to make an impression."
• Zach Boychuk didn't register a point, but he was arguably the Checkers best player most of the night. Daniels said the biggest change in his game is consistency. The fourth-year pro and former first-round pick is at a — dare I say it — pivotal moment in his career.
• Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti registered the hit of the night, flattening Norfolk's Dan Sexton with an open-ice hit that could be heard from the stands. Sexton had just signed a pro tryout contract Saturday and was playing in just his second game with the Admirals.
• Drayson Bowman led all Checkers with five shots but did not register a point.
• Brett Bellemore dropped the gloves in the first period with Norfolk's Josh Brittain in a battle of two giants. It was Bellmore's sixth fight of the season, the most he's fought in a season throughout his pro and junior career.