Nedeljkovic Blanks Bridgeport in Front of Sold-Out Crowd
CHARLOTTE, NC - The top two teams in the AHL locked in a tight contest in front of a sold-out crowd Tuesday night and it was the Checkers who emerged victorious with a hard-fought 1-0 win.
Alex Nedeljkovic continued his hot streak with a commanding performance, turning aside all 20 shots that he faced. The netminder helped shut down all four of the Sound Tigers' man advantages on the night and stood tall during a 10-shot third period to earn his franchise-record eighth shutout in a Checkers sweater.
Bridgeport was similarly strong on defense but Aleksi Saarela was able to solve Christopher Gibson midway through the first, throwing a backhander through traffic for his seventh point in his last seven games and what would stand as the game's only tally.
Coach Mike Vellucci on the game
I thought we played really well for most of the game. We didn't score many goals. On the power play we got a lot of chances and didn't bury it, but you've got to make sure that you stay focused defensively. I thought our guys worked extremely hard and made some big blocks and big saves there at the end.
Vellucci on goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic
He was unbelievable. He wasn't really tested a ton early on, but when he was he made the big save. That's what winners do. He's a winner and he wins games. That save you saw there at the end where he batted it with his stick - the guy had the empty net and he battled right to the end. He could have just given up but he didn't, and then (Roland McKeown) makes a great play to bat it out of the air. A lot of great things.
Vellucci on playing with two defensement out of the lineup due to illness
Fortunately we have a lot of D right now. There was a time we didn't have any. Two guys stick at the last minute, Bobby (Sanguinetti) today and Trevor (Carrick) yesterday. (Josiah) Didier in his first game back got the star of the game by the boys at the end there - he was a warrior all game.
Vellucci on playing in front of a sellout crowd
It was nice to give them a win. I would have liked to give them a few more goals and not make it so exciting there at the end, but it's always fun to play in front of a packed house. We've had some really good crowds here in the last three and hopefully that continues.
Nedeljkovic on a playoff-style game against Bridgeport
We're a tight-knit team but they're a really good team too. They play fast, they play hard, they're physical and they have a lot of speed. That's the way we have to play the rest of the way here if we really want to make a statement and take this thing to the next level.
Nedeljkovic on killing penalties down the stretch
We got a couple of calls our way in the second there and we knew we were maybe going to get a couple go against us going into the third. It was just trying to weather the storm. We kept our feet moving as best we could. The kill was awesome all night, they didn't get a lot of shots on us and we were getting pucks out when we had a chance to clear it.
Nedeljkovic on the crowd
It's amazing. That's what you play for. You want to play in front of a big crowd, and at the next level it's always tens of thousands of people watching you and then however many more people watching on TV. That's what you want. It's a lot of fun when the crowd's into it and they were into it tonight.
The Checkers improved to an AHL-best 29-9-3 on the season and now have 11 more points than second-placed Bridgeport ... Nedejlkovic recorded his second shutout of January and now has eight for his career, giving him sole possession of the Checkers' all-time lead. His league-leading wins total is now 19 ... Saarela's goal gave him seven points (3g, 4a) in his last seven games ... This was the Checkers' second 1-0 victory of the season. They are now 6-115-12 all time when scoring one or fewer goals ... The teams were a combined 0-for-10 on the power play ... Charlotte improved to 2-2-0 against Bridgeport this season. Previously, Bridgeport was the only AHL team they had a losing record against ... Josiah Didier returned to the lineup after missing 24 games due to injury. His previous game was on Nov. 16 ... Defensemen Trevor Carrick and Bobby Sanguinetti missed the game due to illness ... Forward Steven Lorentz was a healthy extra.
The Checkers and Sound Tigers will go toe-to-toe again tomorrow for a 7 p.m. puck drop.
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