The Charlotte Checkers headed to Chicago after their game two defeat in Charlotte on Friday (Apr. 21) that tied the series at one game apiece. The Checkers would take the series lead on Sunday (Apr. 23), besting the Wolves in overtime 4-3 in an exciting game. They would have a chance to finish off the series on Tuesday (Apr. 25) but the Wolves were not ready for their season to end, and they beat the Checkers in a lopsided 5-1 contest.
What Happened: Charlotte Checkers vs. Chicago Wolves games 3 and 4
Game 3: The Wolves dominated most of the action in the first period, outshooting the Checkers 12-7 and keeping the puck in the Charlotte zone for most the period. It would be the Checkers though who would take the first lead off a Philip Samuelsson blast from the point with just less than five minutes less to go in the first period. Then with less than a minute left in the first frame the unstoppable Andrew Miller would give Charlotte and 2-0 lead off a wicked wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle. The start of the second period would see the AHL MVP finally come to life with Kenny Agostino scoring his first goal of the series less than 30 seconds into the second period. It would take the Wolves less than two minutes after scoring their first goal game to tie the game at 2-2 when Adam Musil cashed in on some loose change in front of the net. After the wild first two minutes of the second period, the game would begin to play out much like game two did in Charlotte with up and down hockey the whole period and both teams getting plenty of scoring chances on each side of the ice. The second period also saw each team show a certain amount of grittiness to the opponent. After almost every whistle there would be some sort of altercation with both teams’ players in front the net disputing something that happened in the prior play. It was clear to see that neither team wanted to give up the physical advantage to the other. As the third period started, things were looking good for the Checkers as they scored the go-ahead goal off a Patrick Brown rebound shot to make it 3-2 just over two minutes into the third. However, that lead would be short-lived as Chicago would come back down and score to tie the game just 1:32 after the Checkers thought they had maybe scored the game-winning goal. Roland McKeown would lose his man on a fast break and that led to a wide open shot from Ty Looney for the Wolves to tie the game. The rest of the third period was predominantly controlled by the offense of Chicago. They would outshoot Charlotte in the third 13-6, but Tom McCollum made some huge saves for the Checkers down the stretch and forced the game into the first overtime of the series. Overtime would see the Checkers regain momentum of the game out-shooting Chicago in the final frame 4-1, but most importantly it saw the Checkers regain control of the series. Connor Brickley, the magic man himself, scored his team leading seventh game-winning goal of the season off a rebound shot from the point and the Checkers would take a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4: The fourth game saw the Checkers with the opportunity to win their first playoff series since 2011. They would start of the game exactly how one would want, scoring less than two minutes into the period. It would be Lucas Wallmark tipping in a Trevor Carrick shot from the point that would send Charlotte off and running. But the Checkers would start to struggle from that point on. A little over ten minutes later in the first, Samuel Blais for the Wolves tapped in a loose puck on the right side of Tom McCollum, and the game would be tied at one heading into the first intermission. A troubling statistic from the first period was that the Checkers were out-shooting the Wolves 8-3 about seven or eight minutes into the period. The Wolves flipped that script on the Checkers in the second half of the period and ended up out shooting Charlotte 11-9 for the entire first period. The second period played similarly to the second period of game three where both team’s traded chances on offense and it was an up and down battle on the ice the entire period. There would be no goals scored in the second, but the Checkers would be out-shot again and every line except the team’s first line of Miller, Wallmark, and Zykov seemed to have trouble generating consistent offense. The start of the third period saw the Wolves potent offense finally come to life in a way that it had not for the entire series. For the most part the Checkers have done a solid job skating with Chicago and not giving them any easy looks for their offense to pounce on. That was just not the case in the third period. Right off the bat the Wolves took a 2-1 lead off a Jake Walman wrist shot from the point. Less than two minutes later things started to unravel for the Checkers, as Wolves forward Jordan Schmatlz came down on a rush and fired a bad angle side shot that somehow found its way in on goaltender Tom McCollum. The Checkers would get a few more scoring opportunities to cut the lead to one, but those scoring chances mainly just came from the Checkers top line with not as much help coming from the supporting cast in the final frame of play. Ty Rattie would net two late goals for the Wolves to make it a 5-1 victory for Chicago, subsequently tying up the series at two games apiece.
How the Checkers win game five
During the regular season the Wolves averaged four goals a game at home against the Checkers. That is a number they cannot reach if Charlotte wants any chance of winning game five and extending their season to the next series. Tom McCollum must play like he did in the regular season for the Checkers and how he played in the third period of game three in Chicago. McCollum has been a calming force for this team ever since he got here, and this Checkers team plays noticeably more confident when they are confident in the goaltender behind them.
Charlotte also needs more help on offense from someone other than its top line. They have produced by far the most offense for the Checkers in the postseason and that shows in the statistics with Lucas Wallmark and Andrew Miller leading all the AHL in postseason scoring. Andrew Poturalski, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Aleksi Saarela are three guys the Checkers need to step up in game five to have a great chance of winning in Chicago.
The Checkers defensemen just needs to calm down and relax when they are out on the ice. Multiple times in the past two games Charlotte defensemen have missed on easy passes at the point on offense, and they have missed easy breakout passes to try to get out of the defensive zone. The Checkers blue line just needs to step back, take a deep breath, and not worry about trying to do anything extra. They just need to make the easy and simple pass and not try to force anything that could lead to a turnover heading the other way.
Last thing is, the Checkers absolutely need to make sure they are attacking the Wolves defense at all times. That is what they did so well in the first two games in Charlotte and that is how they will win game five, if they are constantly in attack mode.
Charlotee Checkers injuries and roster notes
Jake Bean and Erik Karlsson missed both games due to injury. Sergey Tolchinsky, Clark Bishop, Janne Kuokkanen, Kyle Hagel, Tyler Ganly, Daniel Altshuller, Brendan Woods and Kris Newbury were all healthy scratches.
Forward lines as of now
- First line: Valentin Zykov-Lucas Wallmark-Andrew Miller
- Second line: Brendan Woods-Andrew Poturalski-Patrick Dwyer
- Third line: Phil Di Giuseppe-Aleksi Saarela-Danny Kristo
- Fourth line: Connor Brickley-Patrick Brown-Andrej Nestrasil
Defensive pairings as of now
- First pairing: Trevor Carrick-Jake Chelios
- Second pairing: Dennis Robertson-Roland McKeown
- Third pairing: Haydn Fleury-Philip Samuelsson
Goaltenders as of now
- Starter: Tom McCollum
- Backup: Michael Leighton
The puck drops at 8pm with Jason Shaya and the radio broadcast available through the Charlotte Checkers’ website.