April 14, 2012 9:37 PM
The Checkers knew they might need a perfect week to make the playoffs. So far, so good.
Justin Shugg, Chris Terry and Matthew Pistilli scored in the shootout as Charlotte defeated Rockford by a 4-3 score on Saturday to improve to 3-0-0 on their regular-season-ending, four-game road trip. The win, which eliminated two of the seven teams vying for the Western Conference’s last four playoff spots, moved Charlotte up to eighth place with one game left to go in Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon.
Heading into that final game, the Checkers only need to hold off ninth-place Houston to qualify for the playoffs. To do so, they would need to take a single point against the Admirals (4 p.m. eastern) or hope that Houston loses its game against Texas (6 p.m.)
Charlotte had a tough fight as it held on to control of its own playoff destiny on Saturday, as Rockford grabbed hold of the momentum by forcing overtime with just 42.5 seconds remaining and thus canceling out Evgenii Dadonov’s go-ahead goal seven minutes earlier. However, the Checkers and goalie Justin Peters, who made 34 saves to earn his third consecutive victory, dominated in the shootout by scoring three times in four attempts.
The victory was Charlotte’s first in their last five shootouts, bringing their record to 6-6 for the season. It was also their second in five days against the eliminated IceHogs, with Peters helping them to a 3-0 win on Tuesday.
The game was close throughout, with the teams trading goals in each period. In the first, Rockford’s Peter LeBlanc scored on a deflection in front for his 24th goal of the season, seven of which came in the eight-game season series with Charlotte. However, Checkers alternate captain Nicolas Blanchard, playing just his second game since suffering an upper-body injury on March 24, tied it when he walked in front behind the net and stuffed the puck past goalie Kent Simpson.
In the second period, Rockford once again took the lead as Jeremy Morin scored on the tail end of a power play that carried over from the first. After another six-minute interval, it was Zach Boychuk’s turn to the tie the game with his team-leading 21st goal of the season when he tipped a Bobby Sanguinetti point shot past Simpson at the 8:41 mark.
The assist gave Sanguinetti seven points (1g, 6a) during an active four-game point streak. He now has 43 points in 43 games since returning from a broken foot on Dec. 11 and had already set new career highs in goals (10), assists (39) and points (49).
Dadonov would give his team its first lead of the game at the 12:58 mark of the third, as he snapped a shot past Simpson from the left circle with assists from Boychuk and Brett Sutter. The goal was Dadonov’s third in 34 games as a Checker, including one empty-net tally. It appeared that goal would hold up as the winner until Brendan Svendsen tied it on a one-timer from the slot with Simpson pulled for the extra attacker.
After Bowman missed on the Checkers’ initial shootout attempt, Shugg, Terry and Pistilli all found the back of the net, with Pistilli’s serving as the walk-off clincher. Peters stopped three of four attempts.
Simpson, a rookie playing his first-ever professional game, made 38 saves in the losing effort. His best work came on breakaway stops against Bowman, Sutter and Zac Dalpe and during a lengthy Checkers five-on-three power play in the second period.
The Checkers now have a chance to sweep a stretch of three games in three nights for the first time in their two-year history, having defeated Peoria by a 6-1 score on Friday. Their best-ever finish is 2-0-1, set on two separate occasions last season.
Against Milwaukee, the Checkers face a team that beat them twice on home ice last week. While simply making the playoffs is the goal, Charlotte could potentially finish the season as high as fifth place should they win and San Antonio lose against Oklahoma City.
NOTES: The Checkers were 6-1-1 against the division rival IceHogs this season … They were also 6-1-1 in the second game of three-in-three sets … Bowman took a game-high six shots … Amateur tryout signings Brian Dumoulin and Brody Sutter sat out as healthy scratches, while forwards Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks did not play due to injury.