Charlotte shook off a controversially disallowed goal to net the game-winner on the very same power play with six minutes left in the third period of a 2-1 victory over San Antonio on Tuesday. Justin Shugg had that decisive goal, with Chris Terry scoring earlier in the game and John Muse making 26 saves.
On the man advantage when Brendan Woods, moved up in the lineup for this game, didn’t get an apparent tripping call but stuck with it to draw a boarding penalty from Rampage forward Joey Crabb, Zach Boychuk appeared to tie the game on a laser from the right circle. However, referee Graham Skilliter immediately waived it off, ruling that the Checkers had committed incidental contact with goalie Jacob Markstrom prior to the shot.
The decision set off vehement protests from the Checkers, just as soon as they finished celebrating and realized what had happened.
On the next shift, defenseman Beau Schmitz, in for the injured Rasmus Rissanen, shot wide to Markstrom’s left only to see the puck bounce off the end boards and to the other side of the net to Shugg, who deposited his sixth goal of the season.
“I did steal Chucky’s thunder,” said Shugg. “From what I saw that was a good goal. There was no interference. It was a great shot, and he deserves the credit.”
“It would have been easy to come in here after a loss and say, ‘Well, we scored and should have won,’ but we stuck with it, Shuggy came up with a big one and we locked it down from that point on,” said Terry.
The would-be goal by Boychuk would have been his team-leading 10th of the season, but either way, it was the sixth power-play goal the team has scored in its last five games, continuing a season-long trend of effectiveness. Though a struggling team that improved its record to 9-14-1 after this win has not produced much in the way of noteworthy statistics, the power play entered the game ranked fifth in the AHL at an even 23 percent.
Even in a game where the Checkers only got two opportunities on the man advantage – the teams combined for just four penalties, the lowest in any Checkers game this season – the power play still managed to be the difference.
“Our power play has been pretty steady all year,” said Daniels. “Almost half our goals are on the power play, so that’s been good.”
To Daniels’ point, the power play has now accounted for 27 of the team’s 62 goals.
“We have to find a way to start scoring five-on-five in this league, because your special teams can step up in a game like tonight but it’s not always going to happen,” said Shugg.
Prior to Tuesday, the Checkers had not won a game when scoring fewer than three, highlighting the defensive effort and the play of Muse, who has picked up each of the team’s last seven victories since rejoining the team on a tryout contract in late October. Whenever San Antonio did get a good scoring chance – their best came in the first period when Bobby Butler looked to have a back-door tap-in on a well-designed passing play and in the second when Greg Rallo shot high on a shorthanded breakaway – Muse had the answer.
“I thought we were really solid for most of the game,” said Daniels. “Obviously there were some big turnovers, and Muser made some big saves, probably a couple each period. He was very focused and ready to go.
“For me that’s a very good team over there. They have four lines that can play and are really deep, and for us that was a big team win.”
The Checkers were also able to pick up another victory when allowing the opposition to score first, something they had not done until erasing a 2-0 deficit against Rockford less than a week ago. This time, Terry had the answer just 54 seconds after Eric Selleck struck first by burying a cross-ice pass while left wide open to Muse’s left.
Terry’s ninth of the season that tied Boychuk for the team lead ended up being a bit of a surprise, as his shot from a fair distance went across Markstrom’s body and into the net. No matter how it went in, it was the response the Checkers needed.
“It’s been an emphasis in our meetings lately – we seem to have good starts to the game but then they score a goal to go ahead and we fall apart and we crumble,” said Terry. “I just wanted to do my part. I was the next shift and wanted to make sure that if we weren’t going to score we were going to create momentum.”
The goal was Terry’s 200th point as a Checker, making him the first to reach that milestone.
“He’s a very gifted offensive player, but for me he’s a better two-way player than he was when he first turned pro,” said Daniels. “That’s a lot of credit to him because he knows what he needs to do to get to the next level. The skill is there, it’s just that compete away from the puck.”
“As I’ve grown up as a pro, I’ve realized that points are great and goals are great, but it’s the little things in my game that are going to get me to the next level,” said Terry.
The Checkers started their current 10-game home stand that ties a franchise record and is now at its halfway point by winning the first of two-game sets against the same opponent before losing the second. With the Rampage staying in town for a rematch on Thursday, they’ll again look to buck that trend and a longer pattern of alternating wins and losses over their last six games.
With the team not having won consecutive games since starting the season 2-0-0, it’s not as though they’ll have to have a long discussion about the importance of doing so, not with ground yet to make up in the Western Conference playoff race.
“Maybe we’ll try something different. We won’t even talk about it,” said Terry. “I think this time we all know what we need to do. Maybe less talk, more action.”
“I told the guys after the game that I’m not going to say anything,” said Daniels. “We’ve talked about it enough. We know where we’re at and what we need to do, and hopefully we can follow it up with the type of game we played tonight.”