As disappointed as the Checkers were after losing their division lead on Saturday, the only complaint to come from Sunday’s response had nothing to do with their play.
Charlotte reclaimed the top spot in the Midwest Division by way of a convincing 4-0 win over the Chicago Wolves that saw them out-shoot the visitors by a 46-22 margin. Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti led the way with three points (1g, 2a), with Mike Murphy making 22 saves to earn his fifth career shutout.
“I thought we came out with a lot more purpose and a lot more desperation,” said coach Jeff Daniels, whose team leapfrogged Chicago to restore a one-point lead in the standings.
Though thrilled with the outcome of the game, thoughts immediately turned to the fate of forward Justin Soryal, who left the game mere moments into the second period after his knee collided with the leg of an opposing player. He left the game in obvious pain and with the aid of his teammates, with Daniels later revealing that the team’s veteran enforcer and penalty minutes leader would miss the rest of the season.
“He did a lot of the dirty work for us, but he’s a guy I had trust in and stuck up for his teammates,” said Daniels. “He’s a leader in that room.”
“It’s a big loss because he’s a great guy to have around and guys fear him because he’s so tough,” said Murphy. “I’m sure he’ll still be around the room to help lift our spirits.”
Though the loss of Soryal did put a damper on the day, the Checkers could find little else to be upset about after ending a four-game winless streak that tied the longest in the team’s two-year history and another of the same length in the eight-game season series with Chicago that has now concluded.
Having been mostly pleased with the effort level during their recent slide, a key difference between those games and this one was the ability to finish chances, though it didn’t always seem as though that would be the case. Charlotte held a 15-6 shots advantage after the first period but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard – a common theme of late.
“It didn’t look good there early,” admitted Daniels.
After narrow misses on a bevy of golden chances in the series thus far, it was perhaps appropriate that they finally broke through on an innocent-looking shot from the point by Zach Boychuk that hit Nicolas Blanchard in the arm before ringing off the post and into the net behind goalie Eddie Lack.
“It was a lucky bounce, but I’ll take it,” said Blanchard, who now has eight goals on the season, including two in his last four games.
It seemed to be the bounce the team needed, with Zac Dalpe scoring his second goal in as many nights on a more traditional rebound finish a little less than three minute later during the team’s second power play.
“That’s hockey, right?” said Dalpe, who had a career-high 10 shots on goal. “You can have all the excuses in the world to get frustrated and not want to come out and play in the second, and I actually thought the second was a pretty underrated period for us.”
“A lot of it is confidence,” said Daniels. “You get one and all of the sudden you can feel the life on the bench.”
Sanguinetti, who had an assist on each of the first two goals, would score one of his own midway through the final period to secure the third three-point night of his career. On his goal, Sanguinetti carried the puck up the right side on a two-on-one with Nicolas Blanchard before beating Lack inside the far post. The puck even got stuck in the netting, adding a bit of style for his eighth of the campaign.
“The seas kind of parted for me there, so I just wanted to put it on net,” said Sanguinetti, who is now second on the team in scoring with 35 points in 49 games, trailing only Chris Terry.
Brett Sutter scored the Checkers’ fourth goal into the empty net with Chicago pushing for the extra attacker.
Though he wasn’t consistently tested throughout the game, Murphy, who was playing just his second game since returning from a month-long injury absence, made tough saves when needed. He most notably came up big with an outstretched pad save during an odd-man rush by Chicago in the third period that would have gotten Chicago back within a goal.
“He was sharp,” said Daniels. “Sometimes when you’re not seeing a lot of shots it’s tough to stay focused on the game, but he was ready.”
“It is a little bit (tough), especially when you haven’t played much in the last little while,” said Murphy. “The D were going a great job of clearing out second-chance rebounds to help me out, and it was a good team win.”
The Checkers will now enjoy at least a few more days of their division lead, as they do not return to action until beginning a two-game set against Norfolk on Friday that continues the team’s six-game home stand. Norfolk beat Bridgeport earlier in the day to extend its winning streak to 15 games.
NOTES: If his season is indeed over, Soryal finished with 10 points (4g, 6a) to tie his career high. He also has 164 penalty minutes, the second-most of his four-year career ... In addition to Sanguinetti, Dalpe (1g, 1a) and Zach Boychuk (2a) had multi-point nights for Charlotte … Dalpe’s goal, his 15th of the season, gives him sole possession of second on the team behind Jerome Samson (18) … Murphy’s shutout was his first of the season and third as a Checker, breaking a tie with John Muse and giving him sole possession of the team record … Center Riley Nash and defensemen Justin Krueger, Chris Murray and Rasmus Rissanen sat out due to injury, while forwards Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson were on NHL recall with Carolina … Fans voted Murphy winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Award.