ROSEMONT, Ill. — Heading to Chicago for the first time this season, the Charlotte Checkers took control of the series with a convincing 4-1 victory over the Chicago Wolves.
The home side came out firing pucks on net early and often, but it was the Checkers offense that was able to break through. Jake Bean fired a puck into a crowd out front less than two minutes into regulation that was redirected in by Julien Gauthier, then threaded another point shot through traffic early in the second to light the lamp himself and give the Checkers a 2-0 advantage.
Patrick Brown kept Charlotte’s red-hot penalty kill rolling later in the middle frame by busting through on a shorthanded breakaway and roofing a shot to extend the visitor’s lead even further. The Wolves would finally find the back of the net with just over five minutes to play, but there would be no comeback as the Checkers slammed the door and Martin Necas added one final empty-net nail to the coffin, sealing the win and shifting the series lead to Charlotte.
Making a return to the crease after Dustin Tokarski won Game 2 for Charlotte, Alex Nedeljkovic was stellar in Game 3. The AHL’s top goalie in the regular season, Nedeljkovic soared with 38 saves on the night, including several grade-A chances from a potent Chicago offense.
Coach Mike Vellucci on the game
I think we got off to a good start, and that was a big part of it. We got a couple of goals and then Ned held us in there in the first period. After we scored they took it to us pretty good there and he made some incredible saves.
Vellucci on Alex Nedeljkovic
He was the goalie of the year for a reason, right? I’ve had him since he was 16. He’s a great goalie and he makes the big saves. I thought he was exceptional tonight.
Vellucci on what’s made Nedeljkovic successful this season
He always played the puck well and he’s worked extremely hard to be in the top shape of his career. He’s been really consistent and we talked about that the beginning of the year. Just be consistent game in and game out. He always has the bounce-back game and he’s a complete pro right now.
Nedeljkovic on his game
They just had a lot of shots, and it’s easy to stay in the game when they’re getting shots every shift. Usually it’s those games where you’re not getting a shot for a couple of minutes are the mentally tougher ones. More shots is almost a little easier to mentally stay sharp.
Patrick Brown on Nedeljkovic
He’s been doing that all year for us. Any time we get hemmed in our zone for over a minute or something like that, Ned is always there backing us up. He knows when to play the puck, he can play the puck and he can make a big save when you need it.
Vellucci on addressing the incident at the end of Game 2
There’s no need. It’s playoffs. It’s the finals. There’s no need to address that. We play hard, they play hard and it’s the finals.
Nedeljkovic on his highlight-reel save in the first period
It’s just trying to read the play. I think it was a 3-on-1 and there was a lane and he was able to make that pass across. At that point it’s just trying to do whatever you can to get your body over to that other side, and fortunately I got a pad on it.
Brown on shorthanded goals
When you have numbers going up the ice, whether it’s a two-on-one or a breakaway, you don’t get many opportunities like that a game so you’ve got to take that whenever it’s given to you or whenever you have that opportunity. I think we’ve been able to capitalize on that and (Assistant Coach Ryan Warsofsky) has done a great job with us.
Brown on the shorthanded goals against Chicago
I don’t know if we’re getting in their heads. I just know we want to out-work them. We want them to know that whenever they get a power play it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to be on them the whole time, and if they’re going to score they’re going to have to make a really nice play to do it.
Vellucci on the team’s mentality after taking a 2-1 lead
Just play every shift like it’s your last. Everything we’ve done all year, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. It’s one game. When we lost Game 1, it was one game. When we win tonight, it’s one game. It doesn’t mean anything. Tomorrow is the day that you’ve got to come prepared and ready to play the game the right way.
Vellucci on the team going 48-0-0 when leading after two periods this season
We have goaltending, which obviously is one big part of it, but we talk all the time about managing the puck, putting it in the right areas and doing the little things. We practice it quite a bit. Then we have a lot of skill that can open up the game too because they’re going to be pressing.
Brown on his line with Tomas Jurco and Martin Necas
Everyone calls them skill guys, but they work their tails off. They work their tails off and finish hits, and Jurcs is a great net-front guy who can make plays around the net. We’re just trying to out-work the other team when we’re out there. We can make skill plays when they’re there, but we’ve scored a lot of greasy goals too.
The Checkers’ sixth shorthanded goal of the playoffs is the most since Milwaukee set the AHL’s all-time record with seven in 2006 … All six of the Checkers’ shorthanded goals have come in their last six games. They went 51 consecutive games without a shorthanded goal prior to that … Five different players have scored shorthanded during this run (Nicolas Roy twice, Haydn Fleury, Clark Bishop, Nick Schilkey and Brown) … Nedeljkovic’s 38 saves were a career high for a regulation game and the second-most by a Checkers goalie in these playoffs (Dustin Tokarski had 40 in Game 5 at Toronto) … Brown has 10 points (5g, 5a) in nine AHL playoff games … The Checkers improved to 48-0-0 when leading after two periods, including 10-0-0 in the playoffs … Martin Necas extended his point streak to four games (2g, 3a) … The Checkers have led 3-1 in all three games of this series … The Checkers won Game 3 in all four playoff series … Forward Steven Lorentz and defenseman Dan Renouf missed the game due to injury … Forwards Scott Davidson, Jacob Pritchard and Zack Stortini, defensemen Dennis Robertson and Bobby Sanguinetti and goaltender Jeremy Helvig were healthy extras.
Game 4 – the second of three straight in Chicago – will take place Thursday at 8 p.m. eastern.