With the teams trading victories in Games 1 and 2 in Oklahoma City, the series showed signs of being as tight as one might expect from teams that took four victories each from an eight-game, regular-season series and finished one point apart from each other in the standings.
That said, the process to get to the current deadlock was something of an adventure, with each game featuring dramatic shifts. One team could look dominant for a stretch, only to be put firmly on its heels the next. The Barons will enter the next game on a high, having scored five unanswered goals to erase an early 2-0 deficit on Saturday.
“I felt like we had some good periods and some bad periods,” said Checkers forward Zach Boychuk, who scored a goal in each game. “There were a lot of momentum changes, and it’s just a matter of being consistent in our game.”
“It was a positive in the sense that the first two games were on the road and we handled it fairly well,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We got better in the second game, but there’s still another level we can get to.”
They’ll attempt to do just that for Wednesday’s Game 3 in Charlotte. Though the series is deadlocked at 1-1, the Checkers will enjoy the significant advantage of hosting the remainder of the best-of-five series, however long that might be. Game 4 will take place Friday, while Game 5, is necessary, is slated for Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“While I think we’d back to be back 2-0, splitting on the road is really not that bad,” said goalie Rob Madore. “We’ve got a best out of three here at home, and I think we’d take those odds against anyone.”
Following Monday’s practice in Charlotte, Daniels noted that wanted his team to be more physical and tougher on the puck – a requirement to match the steadily-rising intensity of the series. As such, the timing could not be better for Nicolas Blanchard and Tim Wallace to return from Carolina now that the NHL’s regular season has concluded.
“Both guys are experienced in the playoffs and they bring a lot of confidence from playing up top,” said Daniels. “They’re two big bodies who keep it simple, and they’re the type of guys you need in the playoffs.
“The indication from the last game was just a lot of one-on-one puck battles, going through checks and going in those tough areas to find those rebounds and deflections in front of the net. Stuff those guys do well.”
In a similar move, Oklahoma City received forward Anton Lander (20 points in 47 AHL games this season) back from the Edmonton Oilers.
The return of Blanchard, Wallace and Jared Staal gives the Checkers 17 healthy forwards and some decisions to make for Wednesday. It’s possible that could be true of the other positions as well, with Daniels staying mostly mum on his injury situation and whether or not Madore would make his third start. The latter may depend on John Muse, who did not dress for either playoff game and did not skate with the team on Monday.
On defense, both Michal Jordan and Brendon Nash took part in Monday’s practice, skating with the team for the first time since suffering injuries on March 9 and April 11, respectively.
“Both are out there for the first time so it’s too early to judge,” said Daniels. “It could be a couple of days or it could be a month.”
“It’s getting better, but there’s still no time or anything like that,” said Jordan, who participated in his first AHL All-Star Classic earlier this season. “I’m just trying to get better every day.”
That could also be said of the Checkers, who hope to bring their best on Wednesday.
“The intensity definitely picked up the second game and I would expect that to continue in Game 3,” said Daniels.