Checkers Roar Past Grand Rapids for Comeback Win
CHARLOTTE, NC - After suffering a tough streak-snapping loss last night, it looked like the Checkers were en route to another before they mounted a furious comeback to stun the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3.
The Griffins jumped out to a commanding lead, potting a pair in the first and adding another midway through the second. They looked to have the Checkers on the ropes, but PTO-signee Ethan Werek scored a power-play goal late in the frame to give the home team a glimmer of hope heading into the third down 3-1.
It didn't take long for the Checkers to start rolling in the final period. Zach Boychuk ripped a one-timer on the power play 1:34 in to cut into the lead, then Rasmus Rissanen tied things up two minutes later with a rifle of a shot on the rush.
A penalty against them looked to derail the Checkers' momentum, but they kept the pressure on the reeling Griffins, leading to a shorthanded breakaway by Brody Sutter where he pulled off a nifty deke and put Charlotte on top. Grand Rapids pressed desperately for the equalizer down the stretch, but the Checkers never wavered and held them at bay until the clock hit zero, clinching their come-from-behind victory.
Comebacks have become the Checkers' calling card, as the team has erased deficits in the third period several times already this season.
"It's something that we've been able to do since the early part of the season - just hang around," said head coach Mark Morris. "If we continue to have that type of confidence that it's not the end of the world, that's a healthy attitude to have. Just refocus, reset the computer and make sure that you're coming into it with a clean head."
"It's just the tenacity that we have," said Boychuk. "We're just a team that doesn't quit. We just keep going."
After sending the Griffins to seven power plays last night, the Checkers again ran into penalty trouble, with Grand Rapids getting six chances at the man advantage. While there was frustration with some of the calls, the team was able to shake it off and stay on their game for the most part.
"Man oh man, what we did to deserve to be down two men, I don't know," said Morris of the 5-on-3 advantage for Grand Rapids late in the first, a sequence that led to them scoring twice. "To the guys' credit, we found some focus and there are some things that you can't control."
"It's tough, especially when last night you get a goal called against you that you don't think should have been called," said Boychuk, referring to a disallowed goal of his that would have tied the game in the third period. "With the refs you just try to lay off them as much as you can, but throughout the game there are emotions and we have a lot of competitive guys on our team. Sometimes it gets away from us, but you work to create your own bounces. We drew some penalties there in the third and found a way to score some big goals."
Kicking off the comeback with the early goal in the third was Werek, giving him three goals in the last two games. For a player who only joined the team recently via a professional tryout, the forward has made quite an impact.
"Ethan Werek was a force again and scored a huge goal for us and played with a lot of passion," said Morris of his recent signee, who set a new franchise record with a staggering 13 shots on goal. "I think he's been inspirational for everyone for his situation where he's a PTO and played huge. You really pull for those guys as a regular in the organization. I'm glad to see him back in the American League."
Rasmus Tirronen was between the pipes for just the second time in over a month, and while he caught some tough breaks against a lethal Griffins team early, the rookie buckled down and came up big when called upon down the stretch.
"Ras was there for us and I'm really happy for him because it had to be tough sitting there and watching Altshuller basically take the net and not want to give it up," said Morris. "Credit to Ras for stepping up and filling in, and we hope his game continues to grow as his confidence elevates."
After a hiccup last night, the Checkers head into the weekend having earned points in 13 of their last 14 games (11-1-2). Morris and the players have all pointed to the confidence level that this hot streak has given them, and tonight was a shining example of that.
"Things have been going real well for us this past month, so for us to have confidence to come back against a really good team like that - it's great to see," said Boychuk. "No matter what this team doesn't give up."
"We believe in ourselves," said Sutter. "We know there's really no lead we can't come back from, and for whatever reason we've been the best third-period team in the league. It doesn't matter how many we're down by - going into the third we're confident we're going to win the game."
The Checkers evened their season series with Grand Rapids at two games apiece with four left to play ... T.J. Hensick recorded his 500th professional point with an assist on Boychuk's goal ... Werek has five points (4g, 1a) in seven games since joining the Checkers from their ECHL affiliate in Florida... Charlotte is converting at a 31.4 percent rate on the power play (11-for-35) in its last eight games and has gone 2-for-5 in four of its last five, including tonight ... Tirronen has won each of his two starts since returning from the ECHL following the holiday break and is now 7-2-0 in his AHL career ... With 42, the Checkers topped the 40-shot mark for the fifth time this season and first since Nov. 8 ... Charlotte has 51 goals in third periods this season compared to just 32 in the first and 24 in the second ... Defenseman Danny Biega and goaltender Drew MacIntyre missed the game due to injury ... Forward Carter Sandlak was a healthy extra.
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