Defenseman Dan Renouf was a major contributor to this victory with a Gordie Howe Hat Trick by way of his fighting major in the opening minute, his assist on Martin Necas’ goal in the second period and his game-tying effort in the third. Cliff Pu, who recorded his first professional goal, and Greg McKegg also scored for the Checkers, who return to Charlotte to open a four-game home stand starting Tuesday.
Saarela, who had just two goals in 16 games entering this contest, scored the first and last goal of tonight’s game. His winner came on an excellent play by Andrew Poturalski, who curled around behind the net and found Saarela open in the slot for the one-time finish just 1:26 into the extra session.
After Saarela’s opener, the Penguins scored four unanswered goals, the first three of which chased Checkers starting goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic from the game. Callum Booth entered in relief and stopped 21 of 23 shots, including a save of the year candidate where he dove backwards to block what looked to be an easy goal near the end of the second period. That save helped preserve the Checkers’ momentum as they scored four unanswered goals of their own, only to see the Penguins force overtime with 4:17 remaining in regulation.
The Checkers improved to 13-3-1, giving them the most points and best points percentage of any AHL team … Trevor Carrick had a game high three points, all of which were assists … Poturalski and Janne Kuokkanen are now tied for the team lead with 19 points apiece. That also ties them for seventh among all AHL skaters … Steven Lorentz earned his first AHL point with an assist on Pu’s goal … Valentin Zykov served a one-game suspension for cross checking that came from a match penalty he earned in the teams’ first meeting on Friday … Forwards Patrick Brown, Nicolas Roy and Spencer Smallman and defenseman Josiah Didier missed the game due to injury.
Their six-game road trip now over, the Checkers return home to play four games in six days starting Tuesday against Belleville.
The Checkers' vice president of communications, Paul Branecky has been covering hockey in North Carolina since 2006, including five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.