After a tight affair yielded a 2-2 score through three full periods, the two squads lined up three-on-three overtime. After a prime chance from Phil Di Giuseppe was turned aside early on, the Checkers got another shot shortly after when a turnover sprung Jake Chelios for a breakaway and he fired five hole to clinch two points for the Checkers.
“About 10 different things went through my head on the way up there,” said Chelios. “Obviously I don’t get those too much. I ended up changing my mind at the last second. You’ve got to stay within yourself on those and get a shot on net, basically.”
Playing in overtime for just the second time all season, the Checkers went in with a few major strategic points in mind.
Chelios, who had yet to light the lamp this season, gave the team an advantage in three-on-three with his quick skating and strong puck-handling ability.
“That’s one of his strengths,” said Samulesson. “He reads the game well and he’s not afraid to go when there’s a green light. That’s a great asset to have.”
“It’s a lot of free flow,” said Chelios of overtime. “Obviously you don’t want to miss the net and let them get an odd break, but other than that it’s kind of, ‘Go out there and be creative with the puck and make sure your guy doesn’t beat you up the ice.’ For the most part they let you play.”
Despite the victory, thoughts after the game remained with forward Connor Brickley, who suffered an injury during a first-period fight with Iowa’s Nick Seeler and left the game on a stretcher. As of the game’s conclusion, Brickley remained at the hospital to have more tests done to his head and neck. He was responsive and moving upon his arrival. Following the game, Samuelsson said he did not believe the injury to be overly serious.
To start the game, neither team could find the back of the net until some unexpected faces broke through for the Checkers. Streaking into the zone, Levko Koper found fellow rookie Clark Bishop with a cross-ice feed that he buried to put the home team on top heading into the first intermission.
The need for depth scoring has been a big point for Samuelsson over the last several weeks, making the fourth line’s success tonight a huge plus.
“We’ve had some injuries and guys called up, which hurts the lineup a little bit,” said Bishop. “Everyone’s got to contribute the way that they can and work really hard, and it seems like it’s working pretty good.”
Chelios potting the game winner is another positive sign, as the Checkers’ blue line has been a bit slow to start the year offensively.
“We need that offense, no matter who it is,” said Chelios. “The D as a whole could be doing better – I think Lowe and Fleury were the only ones with goals before tonight, and you need that in this league, especially with all the defensive play and how many shots get blocked. You need to get them through, and that’s the difference maker in a lot of games.”
Facing a fairly condensed schedule, getting players like that involved will become even more important.
“We have two games in a day and a half here basically so we need every player in this room to carry their weight,” said Samuelsson. “That’s what they did well.”
The Checkers maintained their momentum in the second period, with Valentin Zykov, returning to action after missing two games due to sickness, sniping a shot from the slot less than five minutes in to double their advantage.
The Wild wouldn’t go away, however, as they potted two goals in the frame, including a last-minute tally of their own, to draw things even through 40 minutes of play. Then, thanks to some sturdy play from netminder Alex Stalock, Iowa rode things out to the end of regulation, securing themselves one point in the standings.
Still, despite letting the Wild back into the game, the Checkers showed resiliency bouncing back and not falling back into the winless streak that has plagued them.
“That’s kind of been our thing, especially recently,” said Chelios. “We went through a stretch there where we weren’t getting those goals in the third period and we were rolling over, but as a whole this team knows not to roll over. You can tell with the character in the room that guys aren’t going to do that. We have a hard-working team and a really good group of guys that aren’t going to quit on us.”
For Samuelsson, it’s the two points in the standings that matter.
“John Muckler, an old legend, told me that you can never complain when you win a game, so I’m sticking with that,” he said. “There were some interesting things on the video. Some things that were good and some things that we’re still learning from this game.”
The Checkers will face one of their quickest turnarounds of the season tomorrow, as they will again face this Iowa team at 1 p.m.