It took longer than 60 minutes, but the Checkers went toe-to-toe with the desperation driven Cleveland Monsters and came away with an overtime victory.
Throughout the entirety of the 60 minutes of regulation the Checkers never found themselves with a lead. Cleveland busted out of the gates with two goals in the first six minutes, but a pair of greasy goals from Patrick Brown and Tomas Jurco evened the score heading into the first intermission.
The Monsters were outshot in the middle frame but came away with the period’s lone goal, pushing a puck over the line to regain their advantage through 40 minutes of play. Needing a win to keep their ground in a tight North Division playoff race, the Monsters attempted to lock things down in the third, but Julien Gauthier pulled the visitors back into a tie by splitting a pair of defenders and wiring a wrister top shelf midway through the frame to eventually force overtime.
The extra frame saw some key chances for both sides, but a strong defensive play by Charlotte turned into an odd-man rush for Nick Schilkey and Aleksi Saarela, with the former feeding a pass across and the latter rifling a shot past Cleveland netminder Brad Thiessen for his 30th goal of the season and the game winner.
Ale Nedeljkovic shook off Cleveland’s early success and turned in a strong performance, finishing the night with 25 saves, including several tough stops down the stretch of regulation and into overtime.
The Checkers became the first team this season and the sixth in the last seven seasons to hit 50 wins … Tonight’s win snapped a five-game losing streak in overtime games … Tonight was Saarela’s third overtime winner of the season … Saarela is the fourth player in franchise history to score 30 goals in a single season … Saarela extended his goal streak to three games, tied for the longest by a Checker this season … Julien Gauthier has goals in six of his last seven games and is on a three-game goal streak, tied for the longest by a Checker this season … Martin Necas recorded his second straight two-assist game and has two points in each of his last four games … Tomas Jurco extended his point streak to five games … Eric Williams made his AHL debut and finished with a +1 rating … Andrew Poturalski, Roland McKeown, Josiah Didier, Clark Bishop, Janne Kuokkanen and Spencer Smallman all missed the game due to injury … Scott Davidson and Scot Darling were healthy extras
The Checkers wrap up their regular season schedule with a rematch against Cleveland tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
Director of Communications Nicholas Niedzielski joined the Checkers in the summer of 2014. A Texas native, he previously worked for the AHL's Texas Stars.