As the third game in three nights for both teams, Sunday’s match-up between the Checkers and Norfolk was never going to be a masterpiece. Still, no one on the home team was complaining.
Thanks to Mike Murphy’s 44 saves, his second superb outing in as many nights, Charlotte topped its former division rival by a 3-1 score. Michal Jordan and Cedric McNicoll had given the Checkers the lead heading into the third period, which would hold up with the added cushion of a late Drayson Bowman insurance tally.
The flow of the game wasn’t as lopsided as Nofolk’s 45-30 shot advantage would suggest, but Murphy, playing for the third consecutive night due to an injury to Justin Peters, was there when needed.
“He’s a competitor, and now is his time with Petey out to take advantage and get a good run of games,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels.
“He was unreal tonight,” center Cedric McNicoll said of Murphy. “He’s been giving us a chance to win every night.”
Murphy also faced 44 shots the last time the two teams met on Oct. 8, but allowed four goals as the Checkers went back to the drawing board after two consecutive losses to the Admirals to start the season. Other than costly meltdowns that have seen the Checkers allow goals in bunches over the last few weeks, for the most part, their effort at tightening up defensively has worked.
“We’re not giving up a lot of goals,” said Daniels. “Overall our d-zone has been good and we’re making some good strides defensively.”
“We didn’t give up as many scoring chances as when we played them last time,” said Murphy. “A lot more of tonight’s shots were on the perimeter.”
That couldn’t be said of Murphy’s finest moments, including a point-blank save on Norfolk captain Mike Angelidis and a pair of shorthanded stops on defenseman Mark Barberio near the start of the second period. He also had the answers near the start of the third, helping the Checkers to hold a lead they brought into the third period for the first time in six attempts.
Instead of allowing Norfolk to tie it late – something the visiting Houston Aeros were able to against the Checkers on each of the previous two nights – it was Charlotte that got on the board on Bowman’s backhanded rebound finish of a sharp-angle Jon Matsumoto shot.
“It was good to see,” said Daniels of team’s finish. “We’ve had some trouble holding leads over the last few weeks, but in the last couple of days we’ve been finding a way to win.”
Jordan’s goal, his first of the season and the fifth of his AHL career, came midway through the second period with the Checkers trailing 1-0 after Norfolk rookie Carter Ashton scored his sixth of the season three minutes earlier. Nicolas Blanchard brought the puck down the right side with speed, sending a cross-crease pass that went of Jordan’s skate and nestled under the crossbar.
“I saw I had a chance to join the rush and I just went to the net and it went off my skate,” said Jordan. “I was wondering if Mike Murphy was going to chirp me on the mailbag about soccer
Another Checker would score his first of the season before the period was over, with McNicoll corralling the rebound of a Chris Terry point shot to put the Checkers up 2-1 with just 21 seconds left on the clock. The power play goal, which came with Matt Pistilli creating havoc in front, was the Checkers fifth in their last 19 chances, good for a 26.3 percent conversion rate.
Having concluded their five-game home stand with a record of 4-1-0, the Checkers will now hit the road for their next nine contests and will not return to Time Warner Cable Arena until Nov. 18.
“It’s tough being on the road because it’s such a treat to play in Charlotte, but you’ve got to make sacrifices,” said Murphy.
Fans voted Murphy the “Roll Up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Presented by Community Blood Center of the Carolinas. For more information on the program, click here
The Checkers now trail Norfolk by one point in the GEICO Challenge Cup standings … Checkers forward Jerome Samson led the team in shots for the second consecutive game, taking five on Norfolk’s Dustin Tokarski. The Admirals’ Matt Fornataro had a game-high nine shots … The Admirals, who entered the averaging more shots on goal than any other AHL team, have taken 44, 44 and 45 shots in the team’s three meetings this season.