Checkers Rally to Top First-Place Phantoms
CHARLOTTE, NC - Squaring off against the division-leading Phantoms, the Checkers pulled off a third-period rally to upend Lehigh Valley by a 3-1 score.
Despite outshooting the visitors 22-10, ringing shots off of the iron and putting pucks all around the goal line, the Checkers could not break through on the scoresheet for the first 40 minutes of play. They were able to rein-in the high-powered Phantoms, but a shorthanded marker late in the first gave the visitors a 1-0 lead heading into the final frame.
The Checkers continued to pour it on to start the third and less than two minutes in they were finally able to find the back of the net as Andrew Poturalski skillfully finished off a two-on-one with Greg McKegg. That tally sparked the home squad, who put up 17 shots in the third period alone, and with under five minutes to play Marcus Kruger netted the game-winner, collecting a quick spinning pass from Sergey Tolchinsky and roofing a low-angle shot past Dustin Tokarski. The reeling visitors would not recover, and a Mike Ferrantino-delivered empty netter sealed a huge victory for the Checkers over the first-place Phantoms.
Coach Mike Vellucci on the team's mentality while trailing 1-0
I was proud that we stayed positive. We were good teammates rooting each other on. No negative was creeping in. That's how you win games like that, because if you start letting that negative creep in, it's not going to work. I'm very happy and proud of the way that they stayed focused and stayed with it. That's a huge win for us.
Vellucci on finally getting a goal in the third period
I thought it was going to come. The shots were 18-3 at one point and we were losing 1-0. Everybody contributed. Ferrantino gets the empty-netter and was winning big faceoffs, Stortini was giving us energy. We have seven guys out of the lineup, and all of the guys who came in were very gutsy.
Vellucci on Marcus Kruger
Not just offensively with getting that goal, he was also a leader on the bench. We're an inexperienced team, so any guy that's been through NHL ups and downs, World Championships and those kinds of things, that really helps the young guys come along and calms everybody down. He's a true leader. Give him a lot of credit that he's competing this hard and being a leader for us.
Vellucci on Jeremy Smith
Smitty was very good tonight and he was very good last game. He's back to the Smitty that I know in terms of working hard and making it look easy.
Andrew Poturalski on sticking with it while down 1-0
It was just staying positive. It's easy to get frustrated at a time like that when you have so many chances, hit posts, etc. Staying positive is what got us through in the end, because we knew if kept going that eventually we were going to get a couple to go in.
Poturalski on the team finally getting a goal
It definitely gives you confidence. When you're battling hard all night and you don't get a bounce it gets a little frustrating, but to stay positive and then see one go in definitely uplifted us and moved us forward.
Poturalski on his chemistry with Greg McKegg
I just think we're hard on the forecheck and create turnovers. He has a great set of eyes and can make plays, and that's fun for me. Hopefully we can keep moving forward, keep moving our feet and keep making plays.
Marcus Kruger on filling a leadership role
I try to be myself. We've got a really young team, which is a lot of fun for me. I don't feel like it, but I'm probably one of the older guys here and I try to take responsibility. If we need energy, I try to give energy. If we need some more poise and some more calmness, I try to give that. I try to feel the room but still always be myself.
Kruger on beating a good team at a crucial time of year
I think we all know what's coming ahead here, and we need to be able to win games like this. We're going to enjoy this win but it's a new game tomorrow and we've got to shift our focus here pretty soon.
The Checkers maintained their eight-point lead over Bridgeport, which also won today. Charlotte has five games remaining and Bridgeport has six. Meanwhile in the Atlantic Division race, the Checkers are now just one point behind third-placed Providence and two points behind second-placed Wilkes-Barre ... Greg McKegg extended his point streak to 10 games (8g, 7a), which is the longest of his career, the longest active streak in the AHL and the longest by a Checker since Ryan Murphy posted a franchise-record, 12-game run in 2013-14 ... Poturalski extended his point streak to four games (3g, 4a) ... The two players have each recorded a point on five of the Checkers' last seven goals (three games) ... Jeremy Smith has won consecutive games for the first time since posting a four-game win streak from Dec. 8-17. He has stopped 137 of 146 (.938 save percentage) in his last six games ... Each team went 0-for-5 on the power play ... The Checkers were missing each of their top three scorers and four of their top six ... Forwards Andrew Miller, Aleksi Saarela and Lucas Wallmark, defenseman Jake Chelios and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic missed the game due to injury ... Forward Clark Bishop and defenseman Tyler Ganly missed out due to illness.
The Checkers and Phantoms will face off for the final time this regular season tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.
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