Just 1:13 after Rasmus Rissanen’s goal tied the game at 2-2 with five minutes remaining in the third period, Monsters defenseman Brett Clark scored the winner to hand the Checkers a 3-2 defeat and end their winning streak at three games. Charlotte, which had won seven of its previous eight games, missed an opportunity to leapfrog idle Oklahoma City and climb to ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race.
Mike Murphy took the loss despite a stellar 40-save outing, with Chris Terry scoring the Checkers’ other goal on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period.
“We just weren’t sharp,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “You give (Lake Erie) credit because they came out, played hard and physically and shot the puck from everywhere. We just couldn’t get going today.”
Any excitement from that goal was short-lived as the Monsters quickly took advantage of a messy defensive shift by the Checkers and reclaimed the lead on the top-shelf shot by Clark, who was left wide open to Murphy’s left.
“Hopefully this isn’t a reoccurrence,” said Terry, referencing some of the team’s struggles in the shifts immediately following goals earlier this season. “It was a big goal by Riss that really ignited the bench and then just a breakdown defensively. The bench kind of died off and it kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
The frustration was evident in that point, with defenseman Matt Corrente taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 2:36 remaining when he yelled at a referee while seated on the bench.
“No ref likes to be yelled at and we can’t cross that line where we’re getting T’d up for it,” said Terry. “We had been warned. We need to control our emotions and use that energy in a positive way.”
Daniels could not fault Murphy on any of Lake Erie’s goals, citing the breakdown on the winner and the team’s inability to get pucks deep on Trent Daavettila’s first-period opener and Karl Stollery’s goal that put the Monsters up 2-1 in the second. He made a string of highlight-reel saves scattered throughout the game to keep it close, none bigger than a sliding kick save on a two-on-one break shortly before Rissanen’s goal.
“Murphy was the first star out there for me tonight,” said Daniels. “He gave us a chance all night long to hopefully steal a point but it wasn’t meant to be.”
“I battled and I wanted to win pretty bad,” said Murphy, who has earned just one victory in his last seven decisions. “A couple of bad bounces and we don’t come away with a point, which is pretty frustrating.”
Murphy was also the hard-luck loser in his last start, having made 32 saves in a 3-0 loss in Texas eight days earlier. He received two total goals of support in those two games, while partner John Muse received no fewer than three in any of his last five appearances, all wins.
“He was real good in Texas and gave us a chance and gave us a chance again today,” said Daniels. “Unfortunately we’re not scoring goals right now in front of him. I don’t know what it is.”
Murphy, whose save total fell just one short of his season high set Jan. 10, was similarly unable to provide an explanation.
“I’ve felt pretty good in the last two games and for some reason right now I can’t get a win. After the last one I said I was going to come out today and battle extremely hard and try to get those two points. To not get a point tonight is unbelievable. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not very happy.”
The Checkers will now take Monday off before regrouping for a trip to play Norfolk on Wednesday. Unlike the 10-game road swing that preceded this weekend, it’s only for that one contest as they return home to host San Antonio this weekend.
“We’ll take tomorrow and get our rest,” said Terry. “It’s a grind coming home from a big, long road trip and then playing two quick games. I think everyone’s going to get their bearings back and come ready to work Tuesday. We’ll move on from this, and there’s no sense dwelling on it because there’s still 14 games left for us to win out there.”
“We’ve just got to move on from this game,” said Daniels. “We knew we probably weren’t’ going to win every game from here on out. We’ve just got to respond after a loss like we had tonight and go to Norfolk with the mindset that we need to win.”