On its way to a 3-0 victory over the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins, Charlotte got all three of its goals in the first 14 minutes to pick up a key victory in the ongoing playoff race. With the win, the Checkers regain the eighth seed in the Western Conference with three games yet to play, though the old eight seed, Rochester, has three games in hand.
John Muse stopped all 30 shots he faced to record his fifth shutout of the season, two of which have come against Grand Rapids, with Second-Team AHL All Star Zach Boychuk and rookie center Victor Rask each picking up a goal and an assist on either side of a tally by Brett Sutter.
“That’s exactly what we needed against a good team like that,” said Boychuk, referring to a Griffins team that entered the night as the No. 2 seed in the conference. “With the frustrating weekend that we had, it’s nice to start on the right foot.”
“We were able to capitalize on some chances early, and that gives the bench a boost and you’re feeling good about your game,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It was good to get off to a good start based on the situation we’re in and not having to press.”
Boychuk made the play that started the early onslaught, catching defenseman Nick Jensen flat footed and going around for a breakaway chance that was stopped by goalie Petr Mrazek, though Rask swooped in to knock home the loose rebound just 4:07 into the game. Sutter made it 2-0 six minutes later when he threw another rebound on goal for a sharp angle, banking it off of Mrazek and into the net.
On the Checkers’ first power play of the game three minutes after that, Chris Terry found Boychuk open in the right circle for the latter’s 36th goal and 18th power-play goal of the season, both of which extended his league leads. It was a familiar connection between the Checkers’ top two scorers, who are now in the AHL’s top six as well.
“We’ve been playing together for quite a while now,” said Boychuk of his five-year partnership with Terry that extends back to their rookie seasons with the Albany River Rats in 2009-10. “The guys kind of make fun of us because we’re pretty good friends and they call us the Sedin Sisters. We try to make plays like them. Maybe not quite as pretty.”
“I don’t think it’s the Sedin Sisters – it’s the Sedin Twins,” said Terry, insisting that the nickname, a comparison to the high-scoring Vancouver Canucks forwards, had no further adaptation. “Someone might have switched the lingo on that one.”
Both players could have earned nods on the AHL All-Star teams announced earlier in the day, though with both being left wingers, only one could earn a spot behind first-teamer Mike Hoffman of Binghamton. That honor went to Boychuk, who extended his own franchise record with his 71st and 72nd points of the season, good for second in the AHL.
“He’s been a go-to guy, a guy that steps up in big games and produces points,” said Daniels of Boychuk. “Chris could have been just as easily on one of those two teams because those guys have been our horses all year. It’s good to see Chucky get recognized, because as coaches and teammates, I know that we appreciate him.”
“It’s a pretty big award, and obviously I’ve got to give credit to my teammates – guys that I’ve played with and guys that have supported me throughout the year,” said Boychuk, who took home the AHL’s Player of the Month award for March. “I think the last couple of years have been a little bit up and down, so to have a couple of things like that this year feels pretty good.”
With Daniels feeling as though his team took its foot off the gas in a second period that saw his team out-shot 13-5 before rebounding in the third, Muse was excellent when needed and had to work until the final buzzer to preserve his shutout with Mrazek pulled for the extra attacker. His 27th win of the season extended his team record and tied him for second-most in the AHL this season. It was his 44th win as a Checker, breaking a tie with teammate Mike Murphy for the most in team history, while his seventh shutout as a Checker ties him with Justin Peters on the franchise’s all-time list.
“He’s always played well for us,” said Boychuk of Muse. “We have all the confidence in him, and right now he’s taking the bull by the horns which is what we need at this time of the year. Good for him, because he’s not on an NHL contract and he’s battling to stay in the league. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
“He made some big saves in the second period and they had a couple of shifts where they were probably in there for two minutes of zone time,” said Daniels. “He’s been our rock all year.”
Other teams around the league will now play some of their games in hand over the next few days while the Checkers sit and watch until their rematch with the Griffins in their home finale on Sunday afternoon. It shapes up as a tense period of scoreboard watching, though not as tense as if the Checkers hadn’t earned two points in this one.
“You didn’t want to lose tonight and have another team win tomorrow night, because then you’re really struggling,” said Daniels. “We get the win and maybe it puts some pressure on the other teams, and come Sunday we’ve got to cash in.”