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Checkers Erase 3-1 Deficit, Saarela Caps Comeback

Game 4 victory puts Charlotte one win away from Calder Cup

Jacob Kupferman/Charlotte Checkers

ROSEMONT, Ill. — The Checkers flipped the script on Chicago in Game 4, erasing a 3-1 lead to beat the Wolves 5-3 and move within one win of claiming the Calder Cup.

The Wolves opened the scoring quickly, with Nic Hague going coast-to-coast for a goal on the rush, before the Checkers responded minutes later thanks to a seeing-eye point shot from Jesper Sellgren. That would be the end of Charlotte’s offensive production for a long spell, however, with the Wolves striking late in the first and then again in the second to build up a 3-1 advantage.

With the Wolves riding a wave of momentum, the Checkers were able to cut into that lead in the final minute of the second period as Martin Necas collected a loose puck in front and toe-dragged his way around netminder Oscar Dansk and wired one home to send the visitors into the break on a high note.

That tally lit a fire under the Checkers, who came out flying in the third and evened the score just 32 seconds in as Julien Gauthier forced his way around a defender on the rush to feed a crashing Nicolas Roy for the slick tap in.

Charlotte continued to buzz from there, and just past the midway point of the frame it finished off the comeback as Aleksi Saarela unleashed a wicked wrister from the left circle that beat Dansk up high to give the visitors their first lead of the night.

Nicolas Roy would deliver an empty-net strike later in the frame to push Charlotte ahead by two, but Chicago continued to push hard down the stretch, including on a late power-play that produced a flurry of shots on goal. The Checkers wouldn’t break, though, as Dustin Tokarski wrapped up the win with 22 stops to keep his unbeaten streak alive and put his squad ahead in the Finals 3-1.


Coach Mike Vellucci on the game

I thought obviously they came out flying in the first period. They out-chanced us and out-worked us quite a bit. I actually wasn’t very happy with our first period. I thought in the second period we played better and I had the chances 7-2 for us. We got the big one right at the start of the third period and the momentum changed by that point. Then a big goal by (Saarela), who is dangerous all over the ice no matter where he shoots from. What I was impressed with was that we stayed with it. We talked after the second and third about how we’re going to do this together and be positive together and we were going to make a difference. That was the key. Guys were all in. All in. They stayed positive and carried it over into the third.

Aleksi Saarela on continuing to shoot despite not scoring for several games

Obviously it’s tough when it’s not going in, but it’s playoffs and we have a hell of a group of guys and four lines who can score, so it helps me a little bit so I don’t have to get so frustrated when it’s not going in. I was relieved to finally score a goal.

Vellucci on the change in momentum

I think it started with Marty’s power-play goal at the end of the second. I think that helped us quite a bit to be honest with you. It was a real big goal to go in the third only down one. Again we talked about just being positive. We’ve been here before, and we’re a good group together and we’re better together than separate. Just continue to battle through it. Then that goal on the first shift (of the third) was huge.

Vellucci on the team’s comebacks this season

I really believe it’s because everyone likes each other and everyone is rooting for each other. We’ve got great leadership in the locker room, and it starts with our captain (Patrick Brown). He competes so hard on and off the ice and takes care of himself. He’s a great leader. I really believe that it’s been positive thinking. We stick together, and that’s the best way to put it.

Vellucci on the team’s mentality

It starts early. I started it two years ago when I got here. It’s the mentality of things are going to go bad and how are we going to react. There’s things that weren’t always going our organization’s way or our team’s way, and you have to be positive and you’ve got to work hard. I held them accountable for working hard and staying positive, because if you’re not positive it’s tough to win.

Vellucci on the decision to start Dustin Tokarski in goal

He’s 12-0 for us. He’s another one of those great guys that’s an unbelievable leader. Did I think about going with Alex? Yeah, Alex played really well, but it doesn’t matter. It’s back-to-back games and the numbers speak for themselves. I can’t say enough about both of those guys, but Tick did the job once again and in a back-to-back we’re going to continue to do that.

Vellucci what makes Saarela such an effective goal scorer.

The shot. I think you saw it. He can score form anywhere. It’s heavy and it’s quick. That doesn’t really make much sense but it does. It catches you by surprise. I had an argument with (former Hurricanes assistant coach) Steve Smith in Carolina last year. He thought Justin Faulk’s wrist shot was harder and I said no, I think his is. It’s the hardest shot I’ve seen. When he hits the net it goes in, and that’s something we’ve talked about quite a bit. All he has to do is put it on net. It’s an unbelievable release.


A team has given up a 3-1 lead in three of the four games in this series (Charlotte in Games 1 and 2, Chicago tonight) … When Chicago scored the opening goal, it was their first lead of the series. Their Game 1 victory was in sudden-death overtime … This was the second time the Checkers erased a deficit of at least two goals in these playoffs (also a three-goal deficit in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Toronto) … Necas had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to five games (3g, 4a). This was his second consecutive two-point game … This was Roy’s first multi-goal game of the playoffs … Prior to tonight, Saarela had gone eight straight games without a goal since scoring a hat trick in the series-clinching game against Hershey in the second round … Julien Gauthier has points in consecutive games (1g, 1a) since returning from injury … Dustin Tokarski improved to 12-0-0 as a Checker with just 16 total goals allowed … Forward Steven Lorentz and defenseman Dan Renouf missed the game due to injury … Forwards Scott Davison, Jacob Pritchard and Zack Stortini, defensemen Dennis Robertson and Bobby Sanguinetti and goaltender Jeremy Helvig were healthy extras.

Up Next

The Calder Cup will be in the building for Game 5 on Saturday, with the puck dropping at 8 p.m. eastern.