It wasn’t anywhere near easy, but the Checkers managed to make just enough of a dent against their latest goaltending nemesis.
Charlotte fired 47 shots on San Antonio’s outstanding goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris in a 2-1 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena on Wednesday, avenging the previous night’s shutout loss. Jerome Samson and Riley Nash scored for the Checkers, who got 42 saves from John Muse in his first AHL start of the season.
Having been left disappointed with their previous effort in San Antonio, a 2-0 loss, the Checkers looked like a different team from the drop of the puck on the rematch that would close the four-game season series between the two clubs.
“It was night and day,” said Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels. “We came out a lot more determined, played with a purpose and played with speed. Guys wanted to bounce back.”
“I think we wanted to have revenge for last night, not so much from their standpoint but just from our effort,” said Nash, who scored the eventual game-winning goal on a third-period power play. “It looked like we responded really well.”
As well as the Checkers played, they avoided potential tragedy with Grumet-Morris threatening to steal points for his team throughout the evening. The veteran netminder, who carried a 1.44 goals-against average and .947 save percentage into Wednesday’s game, held the Checkers at bay for much of the evening as they came just two shots shy of tying their season high.
Fortunately for the Checkers, Muse was just as good in his first AHL start since April 9, narrowly missing a shutout as David Marshall scored with just 1:01 left in regulation. That ended his personal AHL shutout streak at 140:28, including a scoreless relief appearance with the Checkers in December.
Muse was at his best in a third period that saw the Checkers out-shot 17-10, including a brilliant glove save on Mark Cullen.
“You look at his track record, and he’s had a history of making big saves in big games,” said Daniels of Muse, who won two NCAA national championships with Boston College.
“In the two games he’s been in, he’s been unbelievable,” said Nash.
Daniels said that Muse, who had dressed as a backup for 14 AHL games this season after starting the season with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, had a week’s notice about starting on Wednesday to help him mentally prepare, though Muse said that was not a major factor in his performance.
“I go into every game preparing like I’m going to play,” he said. “I was excited to know that I was going to be starting, but I tried not to change anything.
“I felt good. I thought I tracked the puck well, and the team did a good job of limiting their chances. There were a lot of long shots, which are much easier than the in-close shots.”
Samson, named to the AHL All-Star Game for the second consecutive season earlier in the day, got the Checkers going when his shot was blocked by a Rampage defender only to then squeeze through for a chance to walk in alone and beat Grumet-Morris. It was one of a game-high six shots on goal for Samson, who narrowly missed the net on a handful of others, including a shorthanded breakaway in the second period and a late shot at the empty net that trickled just wide.
“It was crazy how many chances I had tonight,” he said, attributing budding chemistry with linemate Brett Sutter as a cause. “We could have had seven or eight, but it seemed like we just couldn’t get a bounce.”
Samson’s goal extended his team-leading season total to 15, giving him five in his last seven games – numbers fitting for an All-Star.
“It’s a good honor for me,” said Samson, who will be joined at the event by teammate Jon Matsumoto. “In practices and games I’m doing my best at being a professional day in and day out.”
Nash’s goal came just 16 seconds into a power play that was created by good work along the boards by Matt Pistilli. The goal, a tip from in front of the net on a Michal Jordan point shot, was the center’s third of the season and first since Nov. 23, ending a 15-game drought.
“It felt really good,” said Nash. “I’ve had a lot of chances that haven’t gone in, and even in the first period I had a really good one. It’s been frustrating, but I was matched up against (San Antonio’s) top line so I was trying to take care of the defensive side as well.”
Nash had missed the latter part of the first period after taking a hard hit to the knee, but came out to start the second and said he was feeling better after the game.
With the win, the Checkers split the season series with San Antonio at two games apiece. That concludes their brief home stand, as they now depart for a two-game road trip for important divisional games in Milwaukee and Chicago this weekend.
NOTES: Forward Zac Dalpe and defenseman Derek Joslin, who the Carolina Hurricanes assigned to Charlotte earlier in the day, each played for Charlotte … Joslin, who was playing his first AHL game since May 7, 2010, recorded an assist on Nash’s goal … Muse’s start ended Mike Murphy’s starting streak at seven games, the longest of his career and the longest of any Checkers goaltender this season … Forward Matt Beca and defensemen Chris Murray and Bobby Sanguinetti sat out as healthy scratches, with forwards Chris Durno and Justin Shugg sidelined with injuries … Fans voted Muse winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game award.