Carroll Scores Late Goal To Secure Top Spot For First Time In Franchise History
ESTERO, FL - Andrew Carroll scored a late goal to force overtime and clinch first place in the American Conference as the Charlotte Checkers were edged, 4-3, in a shootout by the Florida Everblades on Saturday.
It is the first ever regular season division and conference title for the Checkers who were 17 points back of first-place South Carolina in mid-January. Charlotte's 43 wins are the most ever for head coach Derek Wilkinson and the second most in franchise history.
The Checkers will now play Toledo in a best-of-five series in the first round of the Kelly Cup Finals with games 1 and 2 being played Tuesday and Wednesday in Ohio. The teams will return to Charlotte for game 3 Friday and, if necessary, games 4 and 5 on Sunday and Monday.
Charlotte held a 2-2-1 record against the Walleye this season. Toledo has allowed the second most goals of the 15 teams in the ECHL playoffs which is good news for the high-powered Charlotte offense.
Checkers rookie backup goaltender Garrett Zemlak did his best impression of Ryan Munce with 36 saves and five impressive shootout stops on the night to earn a point. Forward David Marshall scored twice on the power play while Carroll, who has a knack for delivering important goals, scored his team-leading 30th late in the third period to lock up first place.
The first period was physical with plenty of scoring chances. The Checkers began the game with a strong forecheck and did a good job of creating offense, but couldn't seem to find the back of the net.
Zemlak then bailed out his defense several times as a few turnovers in the defensive zone led to a number of high quality shots for Florida.
Charlotte, however, drew first blood at the 12:53 mark of the period, when winger David Marshall scored on the power play. Marshall was left alone at the top of the nearside circle and drove to the net. Center Brock Bradford saucered a pass through the defense and onto the stick of Marshall who put the puck past Florida goaltender Chris Beckford-Tseu.
Florida would strike back when winger Milan Gajic carried the puck into the Checkers zone on a 2-on-1 and blasted a slapshot on the blocker-side past Zemlak to even the score at 1-1.
The two teams' mutual dislike for one another became clear during the second period and several post-whistle scrums occurred. As a result, 18 penalties were handed out during the period with 12 going to Charlotte.
After Matt Schepke was assessed a cross-checking penalty, Everblades forward Ross Carlson broke the tie with a power-play goal off of a one-time pass from the top of the circle.
Charlotte would then surrender a pair of 5-on-3 power plays and help give Florida the upper hand. On the second two-man advantage, the Everblades added another power-play goal when forward Brandon Buck wristed a shot from the slot into the top corner.
The Checkers headed to the locker room down 3-1 after 40 minutes but came out with one goal in mind - to take the game to overtime and gain the all-important extra point.
Minutes into the third period, Charlotte would cut the deficit to one goal when Marshall collected a David Urquhart pass, went forehand-to-backhand and lifted the puck over a sprawling Beckford-Tseu.
The Checkers remained persistent on the forecheck, keeping Florida on their heels for much of the third period and their determination paid off. Steve Ward drove into the zone, left the puck behind the net for Carroll who then wrapped it around, squeezing it between the post and skate of Beckford-Tseu to tie the game with 2:15 remaining.
After an uneventful overtime period, Shea Guthrie would score the lone shootout goal to give the Everblades the 4-3 victory. The Checkers, however, walked away victorious with the division and conference title.
Charlotte (43-21-8) will face Toledo in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning home for game 3 on Friday. Ticket information can be obtained by calling 704-342-4-ICE or visiting www.gocheckers.com/playoffs. Season tickets for the inaugural 2010-11 AHL season are now on sale and 40-game packages start as low as $200.
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