April 15, 2012 5:07 PM
The Checkers entered Sunday with two scenarios that would get them into the playoffs. As fate would have it, neither came to be.
Needing just a single point to qualify for the playoffs in the final game of the regular season, Charlotte lost 6-1 to the now-playoff-bound Milwaukee Admirals on Sunday. That left them needing a Houston loss later in the evening in order to back in and capture the No. 8 seed, but the Aeros instead battled back from a 1-0 deficit to defeat Texas 2-1.
As a result, the Checkers end the 2011-12 season, one that saw them hold the Midwest Division lead for the first two thirds, unable to build their run to the conference finals from their inaugural AHL campaign in Charlotte. Previously, three straight wins had put the Checkers back in the drivers’ seat heading into the final day.
That day began with their match-up against Milwaukee, in which both teams would have qualified for the postseason immediately had the game gone to overtime. Jerome Samson scored and Justin Peters made 24 saves for Charlotte, which lost for the first time in its last six road games.
The game was not quite as lopsided as the final score would suggest, as the Checkers trailed 4-1 before Jani Lajunen scored into the empty net with 4:05 left in regulation as coach Jeff Daniels, knowing the high stakes, pulled Peters for the extra attacker with plenty of time to spare. Taylor Beck then added a power-play goal with 1:32 remaining to seal the win.
That being said, the Checkers weren’t able to generate the required amount of offense against goalie Jeremy Smith and the Admirals, who beat Charlotte three times in the season’s final two weeks. The Checkers finished with just 19 shots on goal, including four in the third period.
After the Admirals jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a Ryan Tyang goal late in the first period and a Brodie Dupont goal early in the second that came partially due to an uncharacteristic slew of penalties by the visitors, Samson appeared to get his team back into the game with his power play goal near the game’s halfway point.
With Milwaukee defenseman Teemu Laakso in the box for interference, Samson took a cross-ice pass from Drayson Bowman and buried a one-timer behind Smith. The goal was Samson’s 20th of the season, which trailed only Zach Boychuk’s 21. It was also his team-leading ninth power-play goal.
However, Thang would restore the two-goal lead early in the third period when he wound up and blasted a slap shot past Peters from the right circle. Other than the fact that Dupont’s goal came from the left side, the two goals were nearly identical in their execution as each player rushed into the Checkers zone and fired away with nothing between them and the goalie.
Five minutes later, Ryan Flynn put the nail in the coffin when his shot went off the skate of Charlotte defenseman Rasmus Rissanen with 7:44 to play.
The result prevented the Checkers from sweeping a set of playing three games in three days for the first time in their two-year history. Milwaukee was also playing for the third time in as many days, as it won in overtime in Chicago on Saturday.
NOTES: Charlotte finished the season series against the division rival Admirals with a record of 4-4-0 … Though they allowed two goals on seven power play chances, the Checkers successfully killed over a minute of a five-on-three power play in the first period and a double-minor for high-sticking to Rissanen that carried over from the first to the second period … Bobby Sanguinetti recorded an assist on Samson’s goal, extending his point streak to five games (1g, 6a) and giving him 44 points in the last 44 games of the season … Amateur tryout signings Brian Dumoulin and Brody Sutter sat out as healthy scratches, while forwards Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks missed the game with upper-body injuries.