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Charlotte Checkers Corner: The Best of the Best

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The Checkers clinch the best record in the AHL’s regular season and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Jacob Kupferman/Charlotte Checkers

It’s official. The Charlotte Checkers are the best of the best. Charlotte won the MacGregor Kilpatrick trophy this week, given to the team that finishes the AHL’s regular season with the most points. The Syracuse Crunch have made a push in the second half of the season, but some slips over the last ten games put them out of the picture for the best regular season team.

Weekly Recap

The Checkers dominated in their first game of the week by disposing of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms 5-1. Charlotte opened the game with a pair of goals in the first period from Tomas Jurco and Aleksi Saarela. Saarela struck again in the second period for another multi-goal game this season. Stelio Mattheos scored his second professional goal in the second period and Julien Gauthier added insurance with his 23rd goal of the season in the third period. Alex Nedeljkovic had to do the bare minimum to get the win, facing just 17 shots.

The Checkers topped the Phantoms again the next day 6-2. Charlotte’s power play was buzzing and went 2-for-4 on the day. Tomas Jurco opened the scoring just 20 seconds into the game and Charlotte didn’t look back, rambling off three unanswered goals. Martin Necas, Jake Bean, Jurco and Patrick Brown each finished with multi-point games in a comfortable Checkers win.

The Checkers slipped later in the week in their first game against the Springfield Thunderbirds and came out on the wrong side of a 5-3 score. The Checkers pestered opposing goalie Chris Driedger with 36 shots but it wasn’t enough. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 19 on 23 shots. Jean-Sebastian Dea found the back of the net twice for the Thunderbirds and Dryden Hunt scored his 22nd of the season.

Charlotte wrapped up their week with a Dustin Tokarski 20-save shutout and a 5-0 win in a testy game. Aleksi Saarela stayed hot, potting his 29th goal of the season and giving him an opportunity to hit 30 later this week. Charlotte received help on the back end, receiving some offensive help from Roland McKeown and Trevor Carrick. The Checkers penalty kill stopped all four Thunderbird man-advantages and Necas added a pair of assists in the win.

Player of the Week

This week’s player of the week goes to Tomas Jurco. The late-season addition had a productive week with two goals and four assists in four games to keep the Checkers rolling late in the season. He has 15 points in 17 games this season for Charlotte since being acquired.

Thought of the Week

It’s a great time to be a fan of the Carolina Hurricanes organization. With the Canes playoff clinching win over New Jersey, both teams will be going to the playoffs in the same season for the first time since the Checkers relocated. The organizational depth truly shows when two of your top prospects have only played a handful of games for the Hurricanes this season and can be ready to go for the 2019-20 campaign.

It would be surprising for Martin Necas to not be in a full-time role with the Hurricanes next season. Whether Rod Brind’Amour initially thrusts him into a center position right away remains to be seen. Necas has found his scoring touch after initially struggling and has hovered around the 0.75 points per game mark. He could be one of the reasons the Hurricanes could repeat their success next season.

I’m especially curious to see what the Hurricanes choose to do with Haydn Fleury, especially with how the Adam Fox situation is playing out. Fleury is an RFA at the end of the season. Will Jake Bean fill Fleury’s role or are the Hurricanes patient enough to stick with Fleury as the 7th defenseman?

Speaking of Bean, the Hurricanes called him up on Sunday to give him some experience as the Canes get set for the start of their first round playoff series. Bean, who made his NHL debut earlier in the season, is unlikely to play, but with the Checkers playing out the string there was really no harm in bringing Bean up for a few games. It seems likely that Bean will return to the Checkers before their opening round playoff series begins in two weeks.

Looking Ahead

Look, you don’t care about the rest of the remaining games in the regular season. The Checkers will take on the Cleveland Monsters on the road Thursday and Friday to wrap up the regular season.

Here’s the real schedule you want to see. The first round playoff series for the Checkers:

  • Game 1 - Away
  • Game 2 - Away
  • Game 3 - Bojangles Coliseum - Wednesday, April 24th - 7 p.m.
  • Game 4 [if necessary] - Bojangles Coliseum - Friday, April 26th - 7 p.m.
  • Game 5 [if necessary] - Bojangles Coliseum - Saturday, April 27th - 6 p.m.