Special Teams Send Checkers over Syracuse
CHARLOTTE, NC - The Checkers bounced back in their rematch with the second-ranked Syracuse Crunch, using a strong special teams showing to secure a 4-2 win.
After a scoreless opening period, the two sides traded goals in the middle frame before the Charlotte power play turned the tides of the game. Late in the second - less than two minutes after Syracuse tied things up - Morgan Geekie and Jake Bean teamed up to swing a pass over to Martin Necas on the left side for a rocket of a one-timer that blew by netminder Eddie Pasquale to regain the lead heading into the third.
That same trio struck again on an early man advantage in the third period, with Necas again ripping a one-timer in on nearly identical fashion to extend the lead. Syracuse would push back hard throughout the night, including working four power plays, but the Checkers' penalty kill continued to be rock solid and shut them down each time. Part of that lock-down defense was another strong performance by Alex Nedeljkovic, who finished the night with 32 saves to collect his 30th win of the season.
Coach Mike Vellucci on tonight's game compared to the previous night's game
They're both tight-checking games. They're well coached, they move the puck really well, they're fast and they're a hard-working team. It's a playoff atmosphere, and that third period, that's the playoffs. You've got to dig deep and you've got to get pucks out. We were really sloppy at times in the third period but we stuck with it and Ned made some big saves.
Vellucci on Necas' goals
We work on the one-timers. For the last three weeks to a month we've been working on it, so yesterday we showed him video where he had a chance to take a one-timer but he dusted it off, took one or two moves and then shot it and it got blocked. Today we talked about getting it off quicker. On that play, we've also been talking to Beaner about how it has to go wide and right to the flank. You can't wait or take two strides, you've got to get it to him right away. Both of them were paying attention and did a great job there.
Vellucci on taking seven of eight points against the teams directly below them in the AHL standings this week
It's a positive, but we're at home and we expect to win at home. You can't take anything for an advantage and you've got to win the next two home games here, but when we're at home we expect to win.
Martin Necas on adjustments to the power play
We practice it a lot, but at the beginning of the year I didn't shoot much and always tried to make the perfect play. I'm trying to shoot more on the power play now with one-timers and it works.
Necas on his goal
Both goals were kind of the same. I didn't shoot from the same spot but it was exactly the same play from Geeks to Beaner and then Beaner gave it to me. It's nice to score those two and get a big win today.
Necas on his recent scoring surge
I know that I didn't score for a long time before, so my family came here and I felt more relaxed maybe and finally I scored. It feels nice.
Jake Bean on taking three of four points against Syracuse
I think it's great. With about 10 minutes left you could hear guys saying on the bench that this was a playoff game. It was a really good test for us and a good measuring stick too. It's good to get this under our belt because we might see them later in the playoffs and to have some confidence against them is great.
The Checkers held off Syracuse's attempt to tie them in the standings and now enjoy a four-point cushion for the AHL lead. They can clinch a playoff spot on Friday should Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lose in regulation ... Charlotte finished a four-game stretch against teams directly below them in the standings with a 3-0-1 record ... The Checkers finished the season series against second-place Syracuse with a 3-0-1 record and went 4-0-0 against third-place Rochester ... The Checkers set a new franchise record by extending their home point streak to eight games (7-0-1) ... The team has an overall point streak of five games (4-0-1) and is 8-1-1 since Feb. 22 ... Since breaking a 21-game goal drought, Necas has four goals in his last four games. This was his second multi-goal game of the season and first since Nov. 21. He has 10 points (4g, 6a) in his last seven outings ... The Checkers improved to 31-0-0 when leading after two periods. They are the only AHL team with a perfect record in that scenario ... The Checkers have a power-play goal in eight straight games. During that time, they are 11-for-40 on the power play (27.5 percent) and 38-for-40 on the penalty kill (95 percent) ... Nedeljkovic won his 30th game of the season, putting him just one shy of his own franchise record set last season ... Aleksi Saarela served the final game of a two-game suspension ... Forward Zack Stortini was a healthy extra.
The Checkers' home stand rolls on this weekend, starting with a matchup against Hartford on Saturday.
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