When Texas took a 2-1 first-period lead on two power-play goals, improving it to 4-for-4 against the Checkers to start the two-game set between the teams, Charlotte killed each of the next five and even chipped in a shorthanded goal to help earn a 4-3 victory over the Stars at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday. Professional tryout signing Matthew Pistilli scored two goals, Nicolas Blanchard and Beau Schmitz had the others and Mike Murphy made 32 saves for his first victory since Oct. 5.
For a team that had led 3-1 only to lose 5-3 to the Stars in Thursday’s prequel, the Checkers were more than pleased with their ability to finish the job this time around.
“I thought we responded great,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “That’s probably one of the best teams we’ve seen all year. They’ve got a lot of firepower, they’re leading the league in goals for, and have a big, strong D, and I thought we handled it well.”
“They’ve got a really good team on their side, and for us to get to get two points against them when they’ve been really hot lately is great for our team,” said Pistilli, who, prior to joining the Checkers last week, had played 167 games with the Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate over the last four seasons. “Hopefully we can just build on this.”
That was when the Checkers’ penalty kill would make the first of two big shifts in momentum. A Texas rally began on an intercepted point-to-point pass by Justin Shugg on a Charlotte power play, resulting in a two-on-one break the other way that Chris Terry was forced to break up with a slashing penalty. AHL goal scoring leader Colton Sceviour, who had returned from the NHL’s Dallas Stars earlier in the day, made the Checkers pay for that with his 22nd of the season.
AHL points leader Travis Morin scored 45 seconds later on a penalty to Aaron Palushaj that coincided with Sceviour’s goal, making things look bleak for the Checkers when Texas got a third opportunity to start the third period, but Blanchard and A.J. Jenks ended up executing a perfect give-and-go on a two-on-one break, one of three excellent scoring chances the Checkers earned on that same power play, to tie the game. From there, the Checkers nullified Texas’ next four chances, including one in the game’s last five minutes with the Stars trailing by just one.
“You’ve got to give our killers for responding,” said Daniels. “They moved on from it, and it was probably a big reason why we won tonight.”
Daniels said that adjustments made during the first intermission contributed to the increased success, as did the play of Murphy, who played arguably his best game of the season and easily his best since an NHL recall and injury robbed him of significant playing time.
“We talked about it after the first period, the boys figured everything out and it was great for the rest of the game,” said Murphy.
Murphy, who has seen John Muse earn the bulk of the starts over the last month, was playing just his sixth game of the season at any level, making his success on Friday an important step forward.
“It’s huge, especially to get it against one of the top teams,” said Murphy. “It’s huge for me and it’s huge for the team because we know we can beat anyone.”
“He’s been battling and hasn’t seen a lot of the net lately. Some of that has been circumstances with Muse playing so well and (Anton) Khudobin coming down for a couple of games, but he’s working in practice, he’s focused and he understands the situation. He’s got to be ready when called upon, and I thought he was real good tonight.”
If Murphy was getting back to a level more closely resembling where he had been with the team two years ago, the same could be said of Pistilli, who has played almost exclusively in the ECHL since leaving the Hurricanes organization. That league’s scoring leader with 36 points in 28 games for the Florida Everblades at the time of his recent return to Charlotte, he turned in just the third multi-goal game of his AHL career, something he feels was no fluke.
“I know that I can contribute at this level,” he said. “I’m a lot different than what I was before when I was first here. I’m a lot older and more in-shape. Going (to the ECHL) and having all that confidence in the last year I’ve had where I’ve been well over a point a game, I know I can contribute the same way here. It’s only a matter of time.”
Following the game-tying goal by Blanchard, which Daniels said “gave the team life,” Pistilli’s second came when Greg Nemisz, making his Checkers debut after joining the team via a Carolina trade with the Calgary Flames, knocked the puck loose along the wall in the offensive zone during a power play. Cornet then fed a wide-open Pistilli, whose shot went off the post and in.
That gave the Checkers’ a 3-2 lead going into the third for the second straight day. Instead of allowing the Stars to score three unanswered goals, Schmitz gave them a two-goal lead on a low shot from the point that went in with the help of a screen set by Terry. When Texas defenseman Brad Sinkewich got one back, it was the back to the penalty kill to finish things off with Matt Corrente in the box for cross checking with 4:25 left on the clock.
The Checkers now begin a lean portion of their schedule in which they will play just two games in the next 13 days, a quick road trip to Oklahoma City. Following that, they return home for two more games against these same Texas Stars.