Zach Boychuk, Brody Sutter, Brett Sutter and Victor Rask scored goals and Justin Peters made 29 saves to earn the first win of his NHL conditioning stint as Charlotte won the first of back-to-back games in Hershey. Defenseman Ryan Murphy extended his assist streak to nine games, extending a franchise record and marking the longest in the AHL this season, as the Checkers earned their first road victory since Feb. 4, ending an 0-4-1 stretch.
The Checkers now have a chance to earn a split in their four-game season series with Hershey that concludes Sunday evening. The Bears had won two earlier games in Charlotte, including an 8-1 win in the previous meeting that tied Checkers’ franchise records for largest loss margin and most goals allowed.
Before the period had ended, Brett Sutter, Brody’s cousin, slammed home a two-on-one feed from Chris Terry. Rask, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, then chased Grubauer from the game in favor of David Leggio during a brief stretch of four-on-four play.
Murphy picked up the lone assist on Rask’s goal, which, in addition to giving him the longest assist streak in the league all season, tied the longest point streak by a Checker over the course of the current campaign (nine – Terry). In just 14 AHL games played since coming over from the Hurricanes in late January, Murphy already has the most assists by a Checkers defenseman this season and has broken Michal Jordan’s team record for most assists by a rookie defenseman in a single season (15).
In terms of overall point streaks, Murphy’s nine-game run ties Hartford’s Aaron Johnson for the longest posted by an AHL defenseman this season.
Rounding out the Checkers’ second-period surge, the Sutter cousins scored for the second time in their last nine games despite never accomplishing the feat in their previous 58 games together. Rask, who was the only Checkers skater with more than one point, recorded his first multi-point game since Nov. 24.
Despite the second-period breakout and their ability to cruise in a scoreless third, there were moments when the Bears could have easily taken control of the game if not for some stellar goaltending by Peters in the first period. Not long after Boychuk had given the Checkers the lead on the game’s first shot at the three-minute mark, another two-on-one featuring a patient setup by Rask, who out-waited a sprawled defenseman before dishing across the goalmouth, Hershey got a prolonged five-on-three power play when Mark Flood (cross checking) and Jordan (delay of game – puck over glass) took penalties just four seconds apart.
With the help of some shot blocking in front of him, Peters held the fort during that sequence and several others as the Checkers went a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill. Thanks to his goaltending in that initial sequence, his team led 1-0 despite being out-shot 9-2.
The win was Peters’ first in the AHL since Charlotte’s first game of the season in Oklahoma City on Oct. 4. It was his first at any level since defeating the Phoenix Coyotes while with Carolina on Dec. 14.
Prior to the Checkers’ run of three unanswered goals in the second, Hershey’s Ryan Stoa spoiled Peters’ would-be shutout bid when he skated into a puck that caromed off the boards from in front of the Checkers’ net and directly into his path, teeing it up for a blast that found the top corner.
Having broken their three-game winless streak (0-2-1) that coincided with the start of the longest run of consecutive road games in franchise history, the Checkers will now look to build more positive momentum as they aim to erase a seven-point gap with 22 games remaining in the Western Conference playoff race. Following Sunday’s rematch against Hershey, the second leg of that road swing will take them back through Norfolk, the site of a Wednesday loss, this coming Tuesday.