March 30, 2012 7:58 PM
Though they’ve struggled to score in recent weeks, the Checkers got the breakthrough they needed despite some early adversity.
With points at a premium in a competitive Western Conference playoff race, the Checkers rallied back from an early 2-0 deficit to secure a 5-3 win in Grand Rapids on Friday. Instead of potentially finishing the night outside of the playoff picture, they could now head into tomorrow’s game in Peoria as high as sixth place.
Chris Terry scored twice in the third period, including one empty-net goal, to lead the Checkers to the four-game season sweep of Grand Rapids. Jerome Samson, Sean Dolan and Evgenii Dadonov also scored for Charlotte, while Justin Peters made 28 saves for his first AHL victory since Nov. 27.
The five-goal outburst was a welcome one for Charlotte, which had been averaging just two goals during a 17-game stretch that produced just four victories. They were perhaps never under as much pressure to score as they were in Friday’s first period, as the Griffins’ Tomas Tatar opened the scoring by beating Peters one-on-one with a backhand deke just over four minutes in before teammate Brett Raedeke added another 10 minutes later.
Though it still left the Checkers with some work to do, Jerome Samson’s goal just 1:29 after Raedeke’s may have been the most important one the team would score all evening, as it sent the Checkers to the locker room with some momentum. The goal, which allowed Samson to tie Zach Boychuk for team lead of 19, was Samson’s first in seven games and first since returning from the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on March 16.
That goal would be the first of four unanswered Checkers tallies, with Sean Dolan and Evgenii Dadonov scoring just 1:47 apart late in the second period. Dolan’s goal was a sharp-angle rebound finish that snuck past Griffins goalie Tom McCollum, while Dadonov’s strike, his second in 26 games as a Checker, came on a breakaway after he had separated himself from the defense with a burst of speed in the neutral zone.
Though Dadonov had more assists (11) than all but two Checkers players – Terry and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti – since joining the team in a January trade from the Florida Panthers organization, the goal was his first since scoring into the empty net in Norfolk on Jan. 24 – a span of 22 games.
Terry would score the eventual game winner just nine seconds into a third-period power play, as Riley Nash’s offensive-zone faceoff win set the stage for his finish from the point. Though Tatar would score his second of the night to get his team back within a goal just over a minute later, Terry would do the same with just 24 seconds left on the clock, giving him seven points (3g, 4a) during a five-game point streak.
The Checkers now travel to Peoria for a Saturday night match-up that will further impact their playoff position. The division rivals entered Friday’s games in a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference and could still be tied on Saturday pending the final result of Peoria’s late Friday game against Rockford.
NOTES: Charlotte improved to 28-4-2 when scoring three or more goals … Twelve of Charlotte’s 18 skaters earned at least one point … The Checkers finished 1-for-4 on the power play, giving them at least one power play goal in each of their last four games … Charlotte, which entered the game with the AHL’s No. 2 penalty kill, nullified all four Grand Rapids power plays, including a brief two-man advantage in the second period … Checkers defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti missed the game with an upper-body injury. Justin Krueger took his place, playing his first game since suffering an upper-body injury of his own on Feb. 18, and picked up an assist.