The Checkers looked to be headed to a fourth consecutive regulation defeat until Brody Sutter tied the game with 38 seconds remaining in an eventual 4-3 loss to the Oklahoma City Barons on Sunday afternoon at Time Warner Cable Arena. The result still sends Charlotte into the AHL All-Star break winless since Feb. 1.
Justin Shugg and Brendan Woods had the other goals for the Checkers, who have dropped consecutive games to Oklahoma City after starting the ongoing 12-game season series with six straight wins. Mike Murphy made 26 saves while playing for the fourth time in the team’s last four games.
Postgame emotions were somewhat mixed given the team’s improved effort and the last-minute point earned, though the disappointment of not getting back in the win column ultimately won out.
The tying goal came off an offensive-zone faceoff in what set up as the last shift of the game. Along with his cousin Brett, Sutter was one of two centers on the ice, which coach Jeff Daniels said was partially insurance in case referees threw Brett out of the circle on the initial attempt. Still, he was aware of the second-year pro’s penchant for big goals.
“He’s another big body in front of the net and he’s got hands to finish,” said Daniels.
The Sutters, who scored goals in the same game for the first time in their careers in Friday’s 8-5 loss to the Barons, ended up combining on the tying goal with Brett taking the puck around behind goalie Richard Bachman and throwing a puck on net from a sharp angle that Brody pounced on for the dramatic equalizer.
Including last season’s playoffs, five of Brody Sutter’s last seven goals have come against Oklahoma City. Two of those were game-winners, while another of his five goals this season won an overtime game against Rockford.
Even after another clutch goal that marked the first time he’s scored in consecutive AHL games, the high was short-lived.
“It was excitement for a couple of minutes, and now it’s kind of disappointment,” said Sutter.
With 3:28 elapsed in overtime, Roman Horak took advantage of a defensive-zone giveaway by Brett Sutter and sent a shot into the corner of the net behind Murphy for an unassisted goal, his fourth in two games against the Checkers this weekend.
“It was a costly turnover in overtime to lose that extra point,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Overall it was a pretty solid effort by us.”
After an opening goal by Shugg with 11 minutes left in a four-minute power play, the Checkers fourth man advantage of the first period, the Checkers had to come back from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits to secure their point. When the Barons started the second period with two goals in the first 10 minutes, Woods, who fought longtime NHL agitator Ben Eager in the first period, responded with his fifth of the season.
That goal came when Woods’ initial shot was stopped by Bachman, though a rebound eventually came loose.
“When we don’t score early we tend to change our game and start forcing stuff,” said Daniels. “Woodsy’s goal was a perfect example of keeping it simple, shooting the puck and driving the net.”
That was part of a good overall performance for Woods, a first-year player on the team’s fourth line.
“It was one of his best games all year,” said Brody Sutter. “It’s not easy to get backed into the corner by Ben Eager so it takes a lot of heart to do that. He’s a really good player when he uses his speed and he’s got one of the best shots on the team, so if he keeps playing like, that he won’t be here long.”
Woods’ energetic performance may not have been a coincidence given that his California-based family, including his father Bob, an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks, was in attendance for the first time this season – a visit made possible by the NHL’s Olympic break.
“My dad doesn’t get to see me play very often with his schedule and my mom being across country in Califonia, she was here too,” said Woods. “It definitely gives you a little extra jump and it was good to score for them. Getting into a little fight, I’m sure she was nervous with it being Ben Eager, but it was fun.”
The Checkers will now have a few days to go their separate ways before reconvening ahead of a trip to Raleigh to play games against the Abbotsford Heat on Friday and Sunday. Though they’ll need improved results to get back in the playoff picture with 29 games to go, Daniels didn’t feel that the hiatus was necessarily a bad thing.
“It’ll probably be good to mentally get away,” he said. “It hasn’t been a good couple of weeks and obviously we know we’ve got to make a big push.”
“Something we’re not doing well right now is playing with a sense of urgency,” said Brody Sutter. “We need to be a lot better at that and make sure we’re laying everything on the line every night and we haven’t been doing that. If we want to get into the playoffs we have to start and that starts Friday.”