CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Checkers have nothing to lose, and they’re playing like it. A 4-0 shutout win over the Chicago Wolves is certainly a bit of a surprise given the Wolves’ previous dominance over the Checkers, and Head Coach Ulf Samuelsson certainly knows the gravity of the win.
“I thought our structure was very solid throughout the whole game...(Tom McCollum) made some big saves at the right time and usually that team (Chicago) wins, so we’re lucky to have the win,” he said post-game.
Lucas Wallmark posted three points (2g, 1a) on the night, while Brendan Woods and Andrew Miller each chipped in a goal to the effort.
Wallmark’s three-point performance was particularly outstanding as he was coming off of injury into the high-intensity playoff atmosphere.
“First few shifts in the first period it was kind of tough, after a bit I came into it and it was a good game from our line. It was fun to play and fun to be back,” he said.
Wallmark—Charlotte’s second-leading scorer of the regular season—showed no signs of stage fright as he carried over his strong play from the regular season to the playoffs.
“I’ve been playing professionally back home in Sweden for a couple years, and I think that helped me very much as I came into it and got a big role here and played a lot,” he said. “You get confidence and you just try to keep going, and it’s been a fun first season so far.”
On a team-wide level, even more impressive was the fact that the Checkers put forth a truly consistent effort, scoring at least once in each period.
A 4-0 victory is impressive in any scenario, but when it comes as an upset, it usually stems from a brief breakdown from one team that costs them a couple of goals.
Tonight, Charlotte managed to keep their foot on the gas the whole time as they dismantled the Wolves, which was no easy task.
“You can’t sit back because Chicago has so many weapons, if you start defending too much you’re going to be on your heels,” Samuelsson said, “you have to push and play in their end.”
A few of Chicago’s weapons that Samuelsson mentioned were uncharacteristically quiet tonight, as both AHL regular season scoring leader Kenny Agostino and Wade Megan—fourth in AHL scoring—were held in check.
“We played our system, we played our way and we didn’t give their top guys a lot of room and a lot of respect,” said Haydn Fleury, Checkers rookie defenseman. “They’re good players, very skilled, so the less time they have out there makes it a lot harder on them.”
Keeping players like Agostino and Megan off the scoresheet will be difficult, but tonight’s win stands as proof of what the young Checkers are capable of.
Speaking of young players, Fleury was one of several Checkers making his playoff debut this evening, and the young team had to get over a few mental hurdles before and during the game.
“You could sense there were some guys who were a little nervous, some guys handled it well, some guys will be a lot better tomorrow because it’s still the first time, but it’s nice to have it over with and it’s nice to have the win,” said Samuelsson.
But Fleury—he of three separate playoff runs with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL—denied having any butterflies today.
“It wasn’t too bad, I’ve played in a lot of big games on a lot of big stages and I’ve learned how to prepare for them,” he said.
In the playoffs, though, it still boils down to just one win out of three. The Checkers will have their work cut out for them as Chicago looks to get their big guns going before its too late.
Game two will take place at 7:15 pm Saturday night at Bojangles Coliseum.