The Checkers hammered the visitors relentlessly out of the gate, outshooting the Phantoms 19-3 in the opening frame and building a two-goal lead behind a nifty no-look rebound attempt by Tomas Jurco on an early man advantage and a slick breakaway conversion from Aleksi Saarela.
There was no relief for the Phantoms in the middle frame, as Saarela found the back of the net for a second time just past the midway point followed by 19-year-old Stelio Mattheos notching his second career goal minutes later to keep Charlotte’s staggering pace through 40 minutes of play.
Lehigh Valley finally provided a real pushback early on in the third, when an inadvertent offensive zone turnover ended up in the back of the Charlotte net, but it would be too little, too late. Julien Gauthier poked home his 22nd of the year minutes later to regain the home team’s lead and the Checkers would ride out the rest of regulation.
Alex Nedeljkovic didn’t face a ton of action from Lehigh Valley, but was strong when called upon, stopping 16 of the 17 shots he saw to extend his league lead in wins.
I thought we had a really good start. We put a lot of pressure on them in that first period. We scored on the first power play and that always gets you going when you score the first goal. I was happy with our start for sure.
Vellucci on what’s working with the team offensively
I think we’re just playing with speed and confidence. That’s a big part of any sport you play. When you have confidence you’re going to feel good about yourself and make high-end plays. The guys have been playing with a lot of confidence.
Vellucci on clinching the Atlantic Division title today
We want home ice advantage for the playoffs. It’s great to get that and we want to make sure that we keep playing well before the playoffs. That’s the key. We’re happy to get the first title for (owner) Michael Kahn and the front office staff. They’ve put a lot of hard work in for a lot of years here, so it’s nice to be the first one, that’s for sure.
Aleksi Saarela on his offensive success
I think our line has been clicking good. Potsy (Andrew Poturalski) and Geeks (Morgan Geekie) feed me pretty good. It’s my job to score goals and I’ve been lucky to get those.
Saarela on playing at home
We love our fans here and we love to play for them, so it’s pretty easy to come here and play a good hockey game.
Saarela on clinching the Atlantic Division title
We want to win the whole league obviously, but it’s huge for us. We’re going to get a ton of home games in the playoffs so it’s big for us.
Andrew Poturalski on the game
I thought we played hard in the first two periods and kind of let off a little bit at the end there, but we battled back and stuck with it. That’s a good team out there and each two points are big to try to clinch the league.
Poturalski on his line’s offensive success
Obviously Saarela has a great shot like we’ve all seen for the last couple of years. For him to keep shooting like that is great and we’ve just got to get the puck to him and get it on his stick. Geeks makes some great plays too, so hopefully we can keep that rolling and bring it into playoffs.