The Checkers have a habit of running into hot goaltending when they play San Antonio, even when it’s not the same goaltender.
The Rampage’s Dov-Grumet Morris became the third goalie to shut out the Checkers this season, making 33 saves in a 2-0 win at Time Warner Cable Arena on Tuesday. The win marked San Antonio’s second win in as many meetings with the Checkers, as teammate Jacob Markstrom, who served as the backup on this night, made 44 saves in a 4-1 victory back on Dec. 11.
For Charlotte, the defeat meant an end to a five-game point streak (4-0-1) that matched the team’s longest of the season. Having seen his team play arguably their best hockey of the season during that stretch, coach Jeff Daniels was left surprised by Tuesday’s effort against a team that entered the game at the .500 mark.
“It was disappointing,” he said. “We're in no position to take nights off.”
Rampage forward Greg Rallo scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal with 18.4 seconds left in a first period that saw his team out-shoot the Checkers by a margin of 18-10. Those 18 shots marked the most that Charlotte had given up in any period this season.
“We were a little slow at the start,” said Checkers captain Brett Sutter. “I don’t think it was as bad as the shots looked, but obviously they came out with more intensity. Coming back at home we should have came out with a lot more jump than that.”
Things could have been different if Charlotte had managed to score the game’s first goal, a feat they seemed to accomplish when defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, one of three Charlotte skaters still looking for his first goal of the season, beat Grumet-Morris near the midway point of the first. However, the referee, waiting to make a delayed call on the Rampage’s Keith Seabrook, judged that San Antonio had touched the puck prior to Sanguinetti.
“Maybe if we could have gotten that first goal we would have found some life,” said Daniels.
Charlotte’s Mike Murphy did his best to keep up with Grumet-Morris, making several key stops himself as part of a 30-save performance, his most since Oct. 29.
Rallo’s goal, a finish on a cross-crease pass from Bracken Kearns, ended the Checkers’ streak of killing 23 consecutive penalties - a season high. Coincidentally, Kearns was the last player to score a power play goal against the Checkers during the game on Dec. 11, despite his San Antonio team coming into the game with the league’s worst power play at just 10.8 percent.
Whenever the Checkers did threaten to tie the game moving forward, Grumet-Morris, an AHL veteran who was playing in Norway as recently as late November, was up to the task. That was particularly true during a 14-save third period that saw him stop several great chances as the Checkers took a 10-2 shot advantage before Mark Cullen scored a back-breaking goal - a stuff chance from the side of the net - with 11:34 remaining in regulation.
“In the second and third periods we were going to the net hard,” said Sutter. “If you can just get one ugly one to fall it’s amazing how things open up after that.”
“When it comes down to it, you’ve got to put the puck in the net,” said Charlotte’s Matt Pistilli, who may have come closer to that accomplishment than any of his teammates. “When those chances come up, you’ve got to bear down and put them in.”
Grumet-Morris, one of a league-high six goalies used by San Antonio this season, entered the game with a 1.68 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in seven games played this season. The shutout marked his second of the season and the seventh of his AHL career.
“He was solid tonight,” said Daniels. “We saw that he had good numbers coming in.”
“You’ve got to give credit to their goalie,” said Pistilli. “He played a real good game.”
The Checkers and Rampage will face off once again on Wednesday night to conclude their four-game season series. Tuesday’s win gave the Rampage the head-to-head lead for the first time, as they’ve taken two of the previous three games.
NOTES: The Checkers have faced a different goaltender in each of their three meetings with San Antonio this season … Murphy made his seventh straight start in goal, tying a season high … The Rampage improved to 9-1-0 when leading after the first period and 12-0-2 when leading after the second … Five different Checkers had point streaks snapped … Defenseman Chris Murray was a healthy scratch for Charlotte, while forwards Chris Durno and Justin Shugg sat out due to injury … Fans named Pistilli winner of the Roll of Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Award.