After a pair of heavyweight tilts in Providence, the Atlantic Division Semifinals are moving on to Charlotte this week as the Checkers and Bruins battle it out for a chance to advance.
The Checkers started the series strong, stealing a wild back-and-forth contest on the road. The next night’s rematch had a different feel to it, and the visitors found themselves on the wrong side of a 4-2 final.
“The second game was a little more like the regular season series,” said head coach Mike Vellucci. “There wasn’t much room for either side. But we just turned the puck over too much. We showed guys video this morning, it was just way too loose and we get ourselves in trouble when we turn the puck over. When we play a good, solid game system-wise, we’re a good hockey team.”
One of the bigger storylines through the first part of this series has been the depletion of Charlotte’s roster. Carolina’s opening-round series against Washington has taken a big toll on the Hurricanes’ health, leading to an array of call ups – a frustrating but overall positive outcome.
“That’s minor league hockey,” said Vellucci. “It’s my job to get guys to the next level, that’s what it’s all about – developing these guys for the NHL. Guys like Brownie and Bish and Beaner who get called up to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that’s really good.”
Those holes up front have been partially covered by forwards returning from injury like Andrew Poturalski and Clark Bishop, as well as young talent like Stelio Mattheos, who joined the team for the final stretch of the regular season, and Jacob Pritchard, whose first two pro games were Games 1 and 2 of this series, being thrown right into the thick of things.
As it stands now, though, the blue line is the area that is hurting the most for Charlotte.
Already missing mainstay Roland McKeown due to injury and Haydn Fleury to the NHL, the Checkers will now be without Bobby Sanguinetti and Trevor Carrick for Game 3 due to suspensions handed down after a physical Game 2 in Providence. The loss of those two pillars for varying lengths of time – Sanguinetti will miss just one game while Carrick’s ban will have him miss the remainder of the series – puts the Checkers in a tough spot.
The absence of Carrick and Sanguinetti – and the heavy minutes they eat – will bulk up the workload of Charlotte’s remaining blue liners, as well as introduce two new faces to the team’s playoff lineup. Derek Sheppard, a standout on the Florida Everblades’ blue line this season, and Eric Williams, who helped lead a strong Northeastern team to the NCAA Tournament, will be called upon to fill in the gaps.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have Sheppard play some games for us this year and Willy is a new player but he played those last two regular season games in Cleveland,” said Vellucci. “They’ll need to move pucks and do what they do best, but I feel confident and comfortable with them. We should be alright.”
But even as the losses continue to stack up across the lineup, the team has been prepared to weather these storms.
“We talked before the playoffs, adversity is going to be a big part of winning a championship,” said Vellucci. “You’re going to see adversity, it’s about how we deal with it. Our adversity is these suspensions, now it comes down to how we deal with it.”
Lucky for the Checkers, they’ll have a passionate fanbase behind them as they face that adversity.
“That’s the way it goes in the playoffs, there’s a lot of emotion and the crowd is into it and everybody is going nuts,” said Vellucci. “You watch the NHL playoffs and the home team always gets a lot of energy from their fans and we’re expecting the same for us.”