Needing a victory against an established playoff team in Milwaukee, Charlotte fell by a 5-1 score to end their playoff hopes with one day remaining in the regular season. The loss, coupled with Oklahoma City earning a point in its game against Iowa, was enough to mathematically eliminate the Checkers from contention and render Saturday’s finale in Rockford meaningless.
Ryan Murphy scored the lone goal for the Checkers, a tally with 11 seconds left in the second period to make it 4-1, but it did not provide the spark necessary to generate a miracle comeback in the third. John Muse stopped 29 of 34 shots.
Even though the outcome of the Checkers’ game was in little doubt when the Barons backed up Austin Watson’s opener late in the first period with three additional goals in the second, there was high drama regarding whether results from around the league would allow Charlotte to survive for another day.
Oklahoma City’s eventual overtime victory also eliminated Rockford, prematurely ending the three-team race for the Western Conference’s eighth seed. The Barons now prepare to face Texas in the first round, while the Checkers miss the postseason for the second time in four AHL seasons.
With one game left to play, Charlotte is 1-4-0 in the month of April after setting franchise records for wins and points in a 12-4-0 month of March.
After Charlotte came out with a good few shifts to start the game, the Barons gradually took control over the remainder of the first period, culminating with Watson’s goal. After the Checkers missed a chance to clear the zone, Watson corralled a loose puck behind the net, circled in front and beat Muse inside the near post from a sharp angle.
It was more of the same in period two, when Miika Salomaki finished a cross-ice pace moments after his team had hit the post, Filip Forsberg was left alone in front to finish a broken play started by Calle Jarnkrok’s interception of a clearing attempt from behind the net and Taylor Beck scored a highlight-reel goal by beating defenseman Rasmus Rissanen one-on-one off the rush.
Murphy briefly stopped the bleeding with his second career AHL goal, emerging from a goalmouth scramble caused when goalie Marek Mazanec couldn’t handle Zach Boychuk’s shot from the point or Aaron Palushaj’s multiple attempts at the rebound. The goal gave Murphy points in eight consecutive road games.
The Checkers showed brief signs of life in the third period when Chris Terry hit the post on the power play, but the Barons restored the four-goal lead moments later when Anthony Bitetto fired home from the slot to create the eventual final score of 5-1.
The result, date, location and stakes were eerily similar to a game that occurred on April 15, 2012. With both teams needing one point to get into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, Milwaukee crushed the Checkers’ hopes with a 6-1 victory. The Checkers have played road games in Milwaukee in three consecutive Aprils, having been out-scored 17-6 to lose all three.
Milwaukee, which won its fifth straight game, evened the season series at 2-2-0 with the victory. The Checkers have yet to win a season series against Milwaukee in three attempts since moving to the Western Conference prior to the 2011-12 season.