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The Cardiac Checkers strike: Checkers 5, Bears 3; Checkers up 3-2 in series

Who needs Doan-Face when you can have Osala-Face? Former Bear Oskar Osala celebrates his game-tying goal in the Checkers' 5-3 win over Hershey on Friday night. (Photo by LTD)

Game five of the Charlotte Checkers' first-round series with the Hershey Bears wasn't exactly going to form for the first forty minutes.  The Hershey Bears had the game on lockdown, with timely saves by Braden Holtby and three goals to give them a 3-0 lead 37 minutes into the game. 

What happened next should give every Canes fan hope for the future.  An excuse-me fluke goal by Brett Sutter gave the Checkers life, a late-period penalty gave them an opening and when it was all said and done the Checkers stormed back, scoring five unanswered goals en route to a 5-3 win that gave the Checkers a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series.

It started rather disturbingly for Charlotte.  After controlling play for nearly the entire start of the game, the Bears' Steve Pinozzoto cashed in on a centering pass from Boyd Kane that Mike Murphy had no chance on.  Later in the period, Jacob Micflikier, the Checkers' third-leading scorer and one of only two players not under contract to the parent Hurricanes that played in tonight's game, left the ice with an injury (he later returned), and things were looking a bit dispiriting for the home crowd.

Two Hershey goals, both off rebounds given up by Checkers goaltender Mike Murphy, by Mathieu Perreault and Andrew Carroll opened the lead up to 3-0 halfway through the second period.  The Checkers were in desperate need of a break, any break, to get a puck past Holtby and get them back into the game.

That break came at 17:14, when a routine dump-in by Zach Boychuk drew Holtby out of the net and set him up to play the puck - which never came around.  A weird carom off the end boards bounced the puck right back into the slot, where Brett Sutter shoveled it on net and after bouncing around in the crease, and off Holtby's back, it went into the net to get the Checkers on the board.

A boarding penalty to Bears defenseman Brian Fahey with :30 left in the second period nearly led to a Charlotte goal with ten seconds remaining when a Justin Faulk shot rebounded off Holtby's pads and directly to Chris Terry, who double-clutched with the puck on his backhand and couldn't settle it down enough to fire it home.  However, the Fahey penalty did lead to the second goal, a Drayson Bowman laser that was tipped upstairs by Zach Boychuk.

And then the dam burst.  Oskar Osala cleaned up his own rebound on a breakaway at 5:48 to tie it.  Nick Dodge converted a centering pass from Osala behind the net at 11:24 that bounced in off Dodge's skate and past Holtby to give the Checkers a 4-3 lead.  A late 5-on-3 for 53 seconds gave Hershey a golden opportunity to tie it back up, but they were done in by two broken sticks on point shots that gave the Checkers' penalty killers time to recover, and the Bears couldn't cash in.

Osala then set up Bowman for an empty netter at 19:00 to ice it, and the comeback was complete.  Instead of facing elimination on Sunday in Hershey, the Checkers now head north with two chances to clinch.  Who'da thunk it?

Three stars: (1) Nick Dodge, (2) Oskar Osala, (3) Drayson Bowman

Game 6 is Sunday at 5:00 at Giant Center in Hershey.  Game 7, if necessary, will be Monday night at 7, also in Hershey.

Postgame audio:  Justin Faulk, Oskar Osala, Drayson Bowman, Nick Dodge, Jeff Daniels