With three minutes remaining in regulation, Aaron Palushaj and Zach Boychuk scored 26 seconds apart to give the Checkers a 5-3 win over the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday. Boychuk had three goals for his second hat trick in his last three games and Cam Ward earned the victory for the Checkers, who led 3-0 before allowing the home team to tie the game in the third period.
Boychuk, who also had a goal disallowed due a penalty behind the play just before his shot, picked up his 100th AHL goal and crossed the 20-goal mark for the fourth consecutive AHL season. Prior to scoring three goals against Oklahoma City on Jan. 24, Boychuk, who needed only three shots for his latest, had waited three years since his only other hat trick on Jan. 23, 2011.
Ward, playing for the second time in as many nights since joining the Checkers on a conditioning stint earlier this week, made 24 saves to earn his first AHL victory since playing for the Lowell Lock Monsters in the 2004-05 season, his first as a professional. Having quite possibly reached the end of his Checkers tenure, Ward stopped 59 of 63 shots during back-to-back games in Lake Erie.
After Friday’s loss ended their four-game winning streak, the Checkers enjoyed a fast start on Saturday, with goals by Flood and Boychuk giving them a 2-0 lead after the first period. Flood’s goal was something of an accident, as his backhand from along the wall somehow snuck by Pickard at the eight-minute mark. Intentional or not, it was his 10th goal of the season, tying Bobby Sanguinetti’s team record for most goals by a defenseman in a single season.
Boychuk, whose would-be opening goal was called off when referees whistled linemate Chris Terry for a penalty just prior to this shot, scored one that counted when Terry cleared the puck right to him as he exited the penalty box for a breakaway goal on the backhand.
The Checkers seemed to be well in control of the game when defenseman Ryan Murphy entered the zone with speed, went wide to the right and fed a perfect pass to Boychuk in the slot to make it 3-0 midway through the second period. However, the Monsters would strike twice before that period had ended, with Mitchell Heard scoring a pair of rebound goals against Ward.
Lake Erie then tied the game on a glaring mental mistake by the Checkers, who had time to realize that Monsters scoring leader Mark Olver was one second away from leaving the penalty box as they lined up for an offensive-zone faceoff. Whether they were aware of that fact or not, they allowed Olver to sneak behind them for a breakaway goal against Ward that tied the game with 8:25 to play.
Just seconds after Charlotte squandered an opportunity on the power play to fall to 0-for-10 in their set against Lake Erie, Palushaj, who saw his seven-game point streak come to an end in Friday’s shutout, streaked into the zone and pounced on the long rebound of a long Greg Nemisz shot to give the Checkers the lead with just 2:48 to play. Boychuk would then seal the victory with his 21st goal of the season on a two-on-one break as Terry waited for the last possible second to thread a pass between the defenseman and Pickard to an open Boychuk in the slot.
The game ended with a flurry by Lake Erie, which hit the post in the final moment, and a clear fight win by Matt Corrente, who quickly dropped Michael Schumacher to the ice with five seconds remaining.
Though the Checkers’ four-game winning streak came to an end on Friday, they still have victories in eight of their last 10 games dating back to Jan. 3 to improve to 22-20-1 on the season.
The Checkers, who entered Saturday’s game with the fewest road games played in the league (17), now head to Abbotsford to face the division rival Heat for the first time this season. They return home for their annual Pink in the Rink event on Friday, Feb. 7.