CHARLOTTE — Three nights after playing the longest game in league history, the Charlotte Checkers had their backs against the wall in a win-or-else Game 5 at Bojangles Coliseum. It didn’t take nearly as long to play, but the end result was nevertheless the same.
The Checkers’ postseason run is finished after a 5-1 loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday, a game that saw Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon’s shutout streak stretch to more than eight consecutive periods of hockey and one that was not really in doubt after a few minutes.
The Checkers and Phantoms started the game with a wide-open brand of hockey in which every shot for the first six minutes or so came off the rush. Midway through the first period, though, the Phantoms struck first as Corban Knight beat Alex Nedeljkovic cleanly from the left point, taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Knight’s goal seemed to deflate the Checkers, who never really got their skating legs under them and weren’t helped by ice that was less than ideal on a 90-degree day in Charlotte. The Checkers’ best chances came from Warren Foegele, who was the victim of a rolling puck in the first and somehow couldn’t poke the puck past Lyon in the second, either of which would have tied the game.
Midway through the second, Chris Conner doubled the Phantoms’ lead by beating Nedeljkovic on a breakaway, and Tyrell Goulbourne took advantage of an uncalled crosscheck that sent Philip Samuelsson to the ice to make it a 3-0 lead after two periods.
With under a minute to go in the second, Greg McKegg had seen enough, tussling with Reece Willcox and bodyslamming the defenseman to the ice. But the Checkers could get nothing going at 4-on-4, and three minutes later Philippe Myers scored the goal that put the nail in the Checkers’ coffin.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Lyon’s shutout streak reached 165:54 before Roland McKeown broke the shutout with a laser from the right point, the first goal scored by the Checkers in more than 100 consecutive shots against the Phantoms’ goalie. But the Checkers only had a brief second wind before Phantoms captain Colin McDonald salted the game away, beating Nedeljkovic for a 5-1 lead just 1:20 after McKeown’s goal.
That was the closest the Checkers would get, outshooting Lehigh Valley 11-4 in the final period but seeing their postseason come to a swift conclusion by dropping their third straight on home ice, the only time all season they lost three in a row at home. The Phantoms move on to play the Toronto Marlies in the Eastern Conference Final, and the Checkers enter an offseason of change.
They Said It
Lyon was definitely in the zone. I wish I could say we weren’t doing the right things, but you saw tonight: we had 45 chances over eight periods. He was doing something right, and we were doing something right.
I’m proud of the guys, the way we finished. Obviously you want to win tonight, but they played very hard and never gave up right to the end.
The effort has been there all year. You look at the series: we had one power play tonight. We had 70 power play goals over the year most in the league. We won a lot of games with our power play, and then in the playoffs we weren’t getting any chances. The refs put the whistle away. One chance tonight, and only three in eight periods. When you’re not getting the chances, it’s going to be tough for us.
There are certain things we wanted to accomplish this year. We wanted to improve the power play. We ended up over 20%, second in the league and the most goals. So we accomplished that. Two, we wanted to score more goals, and we were the leading scoring team in the regular season. That’s from a team standpoint.
Individually, a lot of guys had career years. I could list them all. Nobody thought Ned was any good in his rookie year, and he has a great year. Foegele has a great year. [Clark] Bishop was one of our most consistent players. Go on down the list.
Their goalie played really well. It was hard to get any goals past them. We couldn’t get the bounces. You just have to keep working hard, and I thought we did that. It’s tighter hockey, and we knew that going in. We just had to keep creating chances, and just couldn’t find the net.
The two off days helped us a lot. I thought we battled hard. This was a proud season for all of us and our team. Just have to keep our heads up. It was a great year.
We’ve battled back so many times, there’s no quit between us. We just fell a little short there.
We had an awesome group of guys. So much character and skill in that room. It’s a sour way to end it, but we worked so hard all year and I’m so proud of all the guys in that room right now.
We stuck with it the whole way. We ran into a hot goalie. Credit to that team, they played well, and that goalie played awesome - but ours played awesome too. We couldn’t crack him, but we stuck to it. I’m proud of the way the guys played. It’s always tough to end the year with a loss.
They shut down our power play pretty good. We weren’t allowed to create a lot of offense in tight; a lot of our shots were wide shots, and we had to get more traffic and guys to the blue paint.
We had an awesome group of guys. Being a leader on this team is really easy because we had such a good group. Everyone led from all areas of the room; you don’t need to be a captain to be a leader. We had rookies pushing the pace, getting us goals at the end of games. We had veteran guys who led by example. I’m proud of this group we had and I had a ton of fun this year.
Ned was so good this whole year. He was the backbone of our team. Same with Smith; when he was claled upon he stepped up for us. When you have two hot goalies behind you, it gives you so much confidence to play free, not afraid to make mistakes. I’m really happy we had two awesome goalies.
- It was remarkable to see how defensively disciplined the Phantoms were. Lyon will get credit for the incredible shutout streak, but the Checkers were stymied all night by the Phantoms’ defense. They are going up against a buzzsaw Marlies team in the second round, but they’re going to be a handful and a very, very tough out.
- Everyone said that the two days off helped the Checkers recover after Wednesday’s marathon, but they sure looked gassed fairly early in the game. It was a real slog for the Checkers, and given how prolific their offense had been through the season it looked like they were a bit unsure of how to fight through the tight-checking hockey required in the postseason.
- Brown deserves a lot of credit for his leadership. The quotes above don’t do justice to how passionate he was when talking about his teammates this season. All through the game, he was standing up on the bench, almost acting like a second assistant coach. I don’t know how much longer he has as a player - it probably depends on how many minor-league deals he’s willing to take - but one day, he will make a heck of a coach.
- Spotted in the press box tonight: Canes assistant GMs Rick Dudley and Paul Krepelka.
- The Checkers’ getaway day will be Monday, as they enter an offseason that will see the requisite AHL turnover but one that leads to a season with sky-high expectations.