Having struggled through a team-record, five-game losing streak just two weeks earlier, the Checkers are enjoying quite a resurgence.
Justin Peters made 22 saves and got offensive support from Drayson Bowman and Marc-Andre Gragnani as Charlotte defeated San Antonio 2-1 on Sunday, extending their winning streak to a season-long four games. Having previously beaten Houston on Friday and Saturday, the Checkers also won on three consecutive days for the second time in team history (20 attempts) and second time this season.
The three-in-three sweep was made all the more impressive by some tough scheduling, as the Checkers took on Houston twice in 17 hours at home thanks to Saturday’s noon start before picking up the victory in Sunday’s quick one-game trip to San Antonio that improved their road record to 10-2-2.
The win over the Rampage, the Checkers’ third win in three meetings this season, came as the result of a tight defensive battle and goaltenders’ duel that was broken open when Charlotte received a lengthy five-on-three power play with eight minutes left in the third period.
During that sequence, Gragnani, who had earlier made a smart play to simply give the puck to a Rampage skater when he saw that the home team had taken another penalty, extending the two-man advantage, fired the puck past goalie Jacob Markstrom at the end of a nice passing play involving Zach Boychuk and Bobby Sanguinetti.
The goal was Gragnani’s first of the season, though he did have 10 power-play assists to rank tied for second in the league coming in. It was also his first goal since March 20, 2011, that came near the end of his Eddie Shore Award campaign as the AHL’s top defenseman.
The only other goals of the game came during the first 10 minutes of the first period, first via Bowman’s shorthanded shot on a two-on-one from the left circle, the second shorthanded goal of his AHL career, and then through Eric Selleck’s effort at the 9:25 mark.
Both goals were likely ones that both Peters and Markstrom would like to have back, which in no way foreshadowed the way they would play for the rest of the game. They took turns shutting the door in the second period, with Peters making three big stops in the first few minutes before Markstrom took over, stopping a handful of Checkers challengers, including a wide-open Sean Dolan from the right circle later in the frame.
Peters’ victory was his third in a row and second in as many nights, as he earned a 23-save shutout against Houston on Saturday. During his win streak, which began against Milwaukee on Dec. 11, Peters has allowed a total of just two goals.
The game also continued a string of much-improved defensive efforts for the Checkers, who allowed 23 or fewer shots on goal for the fourth consecutive game, all wins. Since allowing five goals in their most recent loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 9, they have allowed just four in the four games since.
After their brief trip west for their first road game since Nov. 21, the Checkers now return home to face Peoria on Thursday and Friday before taking a seven-day holiday break. A win on Thursday against the Rivermen, who they’ve beaten seven straight times dating back to last season, would allow them to a tie a team record with their fifth win in a row.
The Checkers last sweep of a three-in-three set was from Oct. 26-28 against Grand Rapids and Peoria (twice) … Bowman’s goal was the Checkers’ third shorthanded goal of the season, two of which were scored at San Antonio … Bowman now ranks tied for fourth in the AHL with 14 goals and tied for third in the league in shots on goal after firing a game-high six on Sunday … Boychuk extended his assist and point streak to four games (0g, 5a) … Rasmus Rissanen returned to the lineup after missing six games with an upper-body injury … The Checkers’ Justin Soryal and Jared Staal were healthy scratches at forward, while defenseman Justin Faulk sat out to avoid playing three games in three nights … The Checkers improved to 4-0-0 without Faulk in the lineup.