Nine Checkers goals, including a team-record five on the power play, a hat trick by Zach Boychuk, a Gordie Howe Hat Trick by Brett Sutter and six fights highlighted a 9-3 win for Charlotte in front of a sellout crowd at the team’s annual Race Night event at Time Warner Cable Arena. It also marked Charlotte’s fourth consecutive win, tying a season high, and improved their record to 6-0-0 against the West Division Rival Barons this season.
Aaron Palushaj, Greg Nemisz, Victor Rask, Matt Marquardt and Rasmus Rissanen also scored for Charlotte, which won for the seventh time in its last eight games. Boychuk, who also had an assist, and Chris Terry, who had four helpers, tied the franchise mark for most points in a single game. Defenseman Ryan Murphy, who the Carolina Hurricanes assigned to Charlotte earlier that day, had three assists and was plus-3 in his season debut at the AHL level.
“I think that was pretty entertaining in front of a sold-out crowd,” said Sutter, who finished with a goal and two assists. “Lots of goals and I liked how the guys had each other’s back and stuck with it until the end and had some good fights. Those are the kinds of games that make you stronger as a team. We had a lot of fun out there.”
“That was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of, especially with the Checkers,” said Boychuk, who registered his second career AHL hat trick and first since Jan. 23, 2011. “You can’t get more exciting than that.”
It was a relatively tame 4-2 lead for the Checkers after two periods of play, though the game did begin with first-period fights from A.J. Jenks, Matt Corrente and Sutter as the teams met for the sixth of 12 times this season.
Things then blew up in the third when the Checkers scored five times, a season high for a single period, including two goals by Boychuk just over two minutes apart to seal the fourth hat trick in Checkers history. After Rissanen scored the game’s final goal with five minutes remaining, there were fights involving Matthew Pistilli, Matt Marquardt and Brody Sutter within seven seconds of actual game time.
Goalie John Muse, who stopped 26 of 29 shots to win his fifth consecutive game and 12th of his last 14, and Barons counterpart Chet Pickard attempted to meet at center ice for a scrap following Brody Sutter’s fight but officials separated them before they could put yet another exclamation point on a game that had several.
As out of character as it would have been for Muse to drop his glove (and blocker), the team’s other key players wisely stayed out of the late melee, not that Daniels gave them the opportunity.
“Me and Boychuk didn’t leave the end of the bench,” said Terry, laughing. “Our names weren’t called too much.”
“I should have got the Gordie Howe,” said Boychuk, suppressing a smile. “It was really a disappointing night that I didn’t get that. I’m pretty upset with myself.”
The escalation of hostilities was only natural with one club holding a lopsided edge in the season series. The fact that the entire front office of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, the parent club of the Barons, was in attendance, may have also played a role.
“They’re obviously competitive guys and they don’t like losing,” said Sutter. “I think we know and they know that their brass is here watching, so it was probably an important game for them and that was part of the frustration.”
While his players were still buzzing after the game, Daniels was in less of a celebratory mood about the game getting out of hand late.
“At that point there was no need for it,” said Daniels. “At that point guys get hurt. I liked the way we stuck together as a team, but we didn’t need that.”
Getting back to the hockey, Palushaj had tied his roommate, Boychuk, for the team lead with his 15th goal of the season to open the scoring before the latter surged ahead with his hat trick. Boychuk’s two power-play goals give him a league-leading 12 on the season. His only previous hat trick was on the last night the Checkers scored nine goals.
“Everything was going in, I was getting some bounces and the power play was clicking,” said Boychuk. “There were some pretty nice plays being made out there. Chris Terry has been great on the power play and it really showed tonight.”
“Other than a breakaway, he’s a goal scorer,” quipped Daniels, referring to Boychuk’s recent frustrations in that department. “The puck seems to find him in those areas. He loves scoring goals and he knows how to finish.”
The Checkers’ power-play explosion came one night after the Checkers, who now rank second in the league with a 23.4 percent success rate on the man advantage, went a disappointing 0-for-5 in Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Barons.
“It’s just the shot mentality,” said Daniels. “I liked the way we were moving the puck (on Thursday) but we weren’t getting any shots.”
The Checkers now get set to embark on a five-game road swing on what is undoubtedly their biggest high of the season. It comes two months after they hit rock bottom in a franchise-record, seven-game losing streak.
“It’s a funny game,” said Terry. “Back in November we were down in the dumps and we had almost taken ourselves out of the playoffs. We’re full of confidence but at the same time we know why we’re winning and why we’re being successful. We have confidence and trust in all of each other and it’s paying off.”