April 13, 2012 9:03 PM
If the last two games are any indication, the Checkers seem to be saving their best for when it matters most.
In what amounted to a must-win game between two teams jockeying for a spot in the playoffs, the Checkers leapfrogged Peoria with a convincing 6-1 victory on Friday. Bobby Sanguinetti tied a career high with four points (1g, 3a) while Justin Peters made 31 saves as Charlotte concluded its season series against its division rival with a record of 6-2-0.
With their fourth straight road win, the Checkers climbed from 11th to ninth in an extremely competitive Western Conference playoff race. They’re tied on points with eight-placed Milwaukee, who they face in another crucial head-to-head game on Sunday that concludes the regular season and a three-in-three set that continues in Rockford on Saturday.
The only definite conclusion to take from Friday’s games was the site of Charlotte’s potential first-round playoff games. Chicago’s win ensured that the Checkers can no longer catch them for the division title and earn home-ice advantage, meaning that Games 1 and 2 of a first-round series would take place at the PNC Center in Raleigh, home of the parent Carolina Hurricanes.
Though the Checkers still have some work to do to balance out their four-game losing streak from last week, their play on the current road trip is an excellent start. Beginning with Tuesday’s win over Rockford, they’ve out-scored their opponents by a combined 9-1 margin, with Peters, who has started four of the team’s last five games, stopping 50 of 51 shots.
Despite what the score would suggest, the outcome was very much in doubt in the early stages of the game, with Peters keeping his team in the game as Peoria out-shot the Checkers by a 10-2 margin in the game’s first 10 minutes. However, the Checkers rallied in the second half of that frame, culminating in Sanguinetti’s career-best 10th goal of the season as he finished a two-on-one with Chris Terry with just 16 seconds to go.
That goal would officially steal the momentum from the home team, with the Checkers dominating much of the remaining time. Though Adam Cracknell scored less than a minute after Drayson Bowman corralled the rebound of a missed Jerome Samson breakaway early in the second to make it 2-1, Justin Krueger and Matthew Pistilli would break the game open later in the period that saw the Checkers enjoy a 17-8 shots advantage.
Krueger’s goal, his second of the season, came on a shot from the right point near the midway point and gave him four points (1g, 3a) in eight games since returning from a month-long injury in late March. Pistilli’s goal was another late strike, as he knocked in the rebound of a Sanguinetti shot from the right circle with just 48 seconds left in the middle frame.
Despite the seemingly comfortable lead, the Checkers kept their foot on the gas in the third, with Terry and Brett Sutter adding to the lead on a deflection and a finish from the slot, respectively.
The Checkers now head to Rockford, the site of Tuesday’s 3-0 win, to continue the three-in-three set. Charlotte is 5-1-1 in the middle game of three-in-threes this season and is also 5-1-1 against the IceHogs this season.
NOTES: Sanguinetti had one previous four-point game, a two-goal, two-assist performance for Hartford against Providence on Oct. 31, 2009 … Sanguinetti and defensive partner Mathieu Roy both finished with a plus-5 rating … The Checkers improved to 31-4-2 when scoring three or more goals and 19-0-1 when scoring four or more … Charlotte did not receive a single power play … Zach Boychuk earned an assist, giving him nine points (6g, 3a) in eight games against Peoria. Terry’s two points also gave him nine points in the season series … Nicolas Blanchard returned from an upper-body injury, playing for the first time since March 24 … Defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who the Checkers signed to an amateur tryout contract earlier in the week, sat out as a healthy scratch … Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks sat with upper-body injuries.