The Checkers started out their best of five, first-round playoff series with the Chicago Wolves at home this past Thursday night (Apr. 20). The Checkers put forward a fantastic defensive effort in game one and shut out the potent Wolves offense for a 4-0 victory. Game two on Friday (Apr. 21) played out as a more intense and physical affair with the Wolves not wanting to head back to Chicago down two games to none and on the brink of elimination. The Checkers would eventually give up a go-ahead goal to the Wolves with a little more than five minutes to go in the contest, and lose the game 3-2.
Charlotte Checkers three stars
Third Star: Valentin Zykov played some of his best hockey for the Checkers in the past few weeks, and it could not have come at a better time. The big forward from St. Petersburg, Russia recorded an assist in both games and he looked outstanding playing the dirty areas of the offense. Zykov did a terrific job of using his body to box out opposing defenders from the puck in the corners of the offensive zone. That allowed him time to find open teammates out in front of the net for shots or teammates open at the point for shots through traffic. He also did a solid job of getting pucks to the net whenever he had a chance and that led to him registering five shots in game two. The Checkers need him to continue his constant physicality with the Chicago defenders in hopes of maybe wearing them down for later games in the series.
Second Star: Lucas Wallmark continues to have one of the best rookie seasons in Charlotte Checkers history. He scored two goals in the team’s game one victory and he tallied an assist in both games as well. At this point, no one should be surprised with how good Wallmark has been for this Checkers team. He is so good at being in the right place at the right time to receive a pass for a scoring opportunity, and that is how he scored his first goal in game one. You can also tell as the year has gone on he has lost some of his pass first mentality. He is taking more shots at the net if he thinks there is an opening to shoot. Still he did an excellent job in both games of finding his teammates when they were open on offense and providing solid minutes on the penalty kill when he was called upon.
First Star: No one has been better for the Checkers in the second half of the season then Andrew Miller. That did not change a single bit for the Checkers first two games at home in the playoffs. The former Yale Bulldog scored a goal in both games and he added an assist in the team’s game one victory. Miller did an excellent job of staying patient on offense and out waiting defenders before making a move around them, finding an open teammate, or firing a shot at the net. He got mostly what he wanted on the offensive end, and that shows on the score sheet with four shots registered on net in each game. In his past 36 games played for Charlotte, Miller has 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points. He is a calming force whenever he is on the ice for the Checkers, and they need him to keep up his dominate play if they want to make a deep run in the post-season.
Even though the Checkers would lose game two, Tom McCollum still deserves his credit where it is due. The spotlight does not look too bright for the former Grand Rapids Griffin. He shut out the high-flying Wolves offense in game one and he could not have looked more confident. He made key saves in the third period of game one, keeping the Wolves at bay and allowing the Checkers offense to add the insurance they needed to secure the contest. He stopped 52 of 55 shots for a .945 save percentage and 1.5 goals per game. McCollum does not need to win the series for the Checkers, but he does need to keep up his solid play in net to keep the team’s confidence up of the defensive end of the ice. In his first two games, back from injury Danny Kristo could not have looked any happier to be on the ice. He was skating extremely hard every time he was in the game, and he did not give the Wolves a break for one second on the fore-check, constantly dogging the Wolves defenders leaving their zone. Even with him coming back from injury, Kristo did not shy away from contact at any point and made sure to get down in the dirty areas of the offensive zone whenever his line was on the ice. He also made an absolutely gorgeous pass to Dennis Robertson for the Checkers second goal of game two. The Checkers would love to have the same type of energy from him come game three in Chicago.
The Checkers need Andrew Poturalski to be more involved in the offense for the rest of the series. The team’s leading goal scorer did not tally a single point in the first two games, and he did not even get a shot off during game one. While his lack of offense did not hurt Charlotte in game one, they definitely could have used a little spark from him in game two. He just was not that big of a factor in either game and he was out on the ice for two of three goals that Chicago scored in their game two victory. I do not expect Poturalski to have another game like he had in the first two. He is too good of a player to be shut out for a long period of time. If he rebounds, his contributions in the next few games will go a long way to helping secure a Checkers first round win.
How the Checkers Finish the Series
The Checkers did a fantastic job in both games of taking the Wolves top line of Wayne Megan, Andrew Agozzino, and Kenny Agostino out of the game offensively. They will need more of the same if they hope to pull out two of the next three games in Chicago. The Checkers will need to capitalize on offense with the chances that they get. In their game two loss they fired 39 shots on net but only came out of the contest with two goals to show for it. (Sounds like some other team Hurricanes fans are familiar with). They must cash in on more of their chances than that and things are only going to get more difficult on offense playing at Chicago. The Checkers also must be in attack mode at all times like they were in the first two games. They cannot get complacent at any point in the game or the potent Wolves offense will make them pay.
Charlotte Checkers injuries and roster notes
Jake Bean and Erik Karlsson missed both games due to injury. Sergey Tolchinsky, Kris Newbury, Clark Bishop, Levko Koper, Janne Kuokkanen, Tyler Ganly, and Daniel Altshuller all were healthy scratches. The Hurricanes assigned Junior forward Janne Kuokkanen to Charlotte after his team to London Knights lost to the Erie Otters in the second round of the OHL playoffs.
Forward lines as of now
- First line: Valentin Zykov-Lucas Wallmark-Andrew Miller
- Second line: Aleksi Saarela-Andrew Poturalski-Danny Kristo
- Third line: Phil Di Giuseppe-Andrej Nestrasil-Patrick Dwyer
- Fourth line: Connor Brickley-Patrick Brown-Brendan Woods
Defensive pairings as of now
- First pairing: Trevor Carrick-Jake Chelios
- Second pairing: Dennis Robertson-Roland McKeown
- Third pairing: Haydn Fleury-Philip Samuelsson
Goalies as of now
- Starter: Tom McCollum
- Back-up: Michael Leighton