Charlotte dropped a 4-3 decision to the Heat on Wednesday night, ensuring that they would come up empty in a two-game trip to Abbotsford. Danny Biega scored his first two professional goals and Zach Boychuk added another for the Checkers, who went 1-3-0 on their now-concluded, four-game road trip.
In his first start since Jan. 17, Mike Murphy made 24 saves for Charlotte, which now returns home to play its annual Pink in the Rink game against the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday. Charlotte has now lost consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 19-20, while Abbotsford extended its point streak to seven games (5-0-2) and allowed it to claim the top spot in the Western Conference.
Though the result was the same, the game was much more evenly played than Abbotsford’s 7-1 win on Tuesday that marked the largest road defeat in Checkers history. With the teams trading goals throughout the night, Abbotsford scored first and last to move to 2-0-0 in the season series between the West Division rivals that continues with two games at Raleigh’s PNC Arena on Feb. 14 and 16.
The winning goal came on a rebound with 3:13 left in regulation, with rookie Corban Knight given too much space to deposit a Ben Street rebound on the doorstep in front of Murphy. Just five minutes earlier, Biega, who entered the game with no goals in his first 38 professional games with Charlotte, had notched his second of the game by driving the net and stuffing a loose puck under goalie Olivier Roy’s pads on the rebound.
Wednesday’s back-and-forth scoring began in the second half of the first period, one that started much more brightly than when Abbotsford had jumped out to a 4-0 lead after 13 minutes of play the night before. The Checkers did well to negate a two-man advantage lasting nearly the full two minutes after Biega and Chris Terry took penalties just seven seconds apart, particularly given that the Heat had recorded three power-play goals the night before.
Soon after that power-play ended, the Checkers left Heat forward Sven Baertschi alone in the slot to beat Murphy with a backhand deke on a coverage breakdown in the Checkers’ zone. Biega then responded with his first goal as a Checker on an unconventional four-on-one rush, one that saw the puck go from Boychuk to Biega, then to Brett Sutter and back to Biega for a shot that was partially blocked, causing it to take a strange, slow bounce through the legs of Roy.
Abbotsford then capitalized on an unusual odd-man rush of its own, with rookie Markus Granlund scoring for the fifth consecutive game on a three-on-one, shorthanded break after Aaron Palushaj drew a high sticking penalty on the opening faceoff of the second period. That was Granlund’s 21st goal of the season, briefly tying him with Boychuk until the Checkers forward tied it at 2-2 with a snipe from the right circle that went off the post and in.
Including two recent hat tricks, Boychuk’s goal was his seventh in his last five games. He is now just one goal short of tying his AHL career high set last season.
Street gave the Heat a 3-2 lead on the only goal of the night that Murphy would like to have back, a spinning, no-look shot of a loose puck that emerged from a battle to Murphy’s left with 10:30 to play.
Following Knight’s winning goal, the Checkers had a few decent looks to tie the game for the fourth time, including a promising one-timer by Terry in the final minute, but ultimately came up short.
Charlotte out-shot the Heat by a 37-28 margin on the night, including a 27-14 advantage in the final two periods. Roy, the Heat’s third-string goalie who had not played a game with the team prior to this week, made 34 saves to beat the Checkers for the second consecutive night.