Charlotte took a 4-0 lead in the first period and hung on for a 5-2 victory in Oklahoma City on Friday – the first of back-to-back meetings against the West Division rivals. Matthew Pistilli led the way with two goals and Mike Murphy had 41 saves, tying the most by a Checkers goalie this season, as Charlotte won its second straight game and improved to 3-0-0 against the Barons this season.
Victor Rask, Chris Terry and Aaron Palushaj also scored for the Checkers, who out-shot the Barons 21-8 in the first period but saw the home team take a 35-16 advantage the rest of the way, closing the lead to two goals before Palushaj sealed it with an empty-netter. Charlotte, which plays the Barons nine more times this season, is now 9-2-0 in 11 all-time regular-season visits to Oklahoma City.
Pistilli, who rejoined the Checkers on a professional tryout contract two weeks ago, added a second on the power play when Palushaj drew multiple defenders and dished a pass that found Pistilli alone in the slot for a one-on-one finish.
The Checkers would then get two goals in just 25 seconds when Terry caught a burst of speed down the left wing and beat Pickard five-hole while being hauled down. Pistilli, who had a pair of goals against Texas on Friday, then made it four in his last four periods by capitalizing on a giveaway in the neutral zone and chasing Pickard from the game with a forehand to backhand deke on the breakaway.
The early offensive outburst marked just the second four-goal first period in team history and first since Jan. 23, 2011. It was the most prolific period of this season, topping a pair of three-goal third periods, and the team’s first with four goals since February of last season. The team’s 21 shots on goal tied a season high.
After an evenly-played second period, the Barons did their best to replicate the Checkers’ strong start with a strong finish in the third. With Richard Bachman, the team’s normal starting goaltender, stopping all 21 shots he faced after relieving Pickard, it was the offense’s turn to finally break through to Murphy, who managed to stay sharp despite a quiet opening frame.
Former ECHL Checker Matthew Ford struck first at the 3:53 mark of the third, taking a pass from a pileup behind the net and quickly taking a shot from the slot that beat the Checkers goalie to the blocker side. Ford also had a hand in his team’s second goal with just over five minutes remaining, as the rebound of his shot from the right circle went right to Ryan Martindale in front.
With that goal resulting from what was already a prolonged period of Oklahoma City pressure that Murphy stood tall against, the Checkers weren’t able to breathe easily when the Barons pulled Bachman for the extra attacker with just under two minutes to go. Palushaj’s 10th goal of the season, a shot from the length of the ice with 1:11 remaining, erased those concerns, effectively sending the Checkers away winners.
With that goal, Palushaj, the Checkers’ scoring leader who returned from a one-game NHL stint on Wednesday, now has 16 points (4g, 12a) in his last 12 AHL games. Terry also had a two-point night, extending his point streak to four games (3g, 2a).