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Coming off record season, Checkers face Providence in first round of hockey playoffs

Charlotte Checkers celebrate a overtime win in the 2018 American Hockey League playoffs. The top-seeded squad opens 2019 post-season play on Saturday  against the Providence Bruins.
Charlotte Checkers celebrate a overtime win in the 2018 American Hockey League playoffs. The top-seeded squad opens 2019 post-season play on Saturday against the Providence Bruins. Special to the Observer

The Charlotte Checkers, fresh off the franchise’s best regular-season performance, now know their opening-round opponent and schedule in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playoffs.

The Checkers, who won the AHL’s Atlantic Division and had the best overall record of the league’s 31 teams, will face Providence, the Atlantic’s fourth-place team, in the first- round best-of-five series. Charlotte finished the regular season with a pair of victories over the Cleveland Monsters.

The Checkers already had clinched the playoffs and No. 1 seed, and the Monsters were battling for a playoff berth. But Charlotte took victories of 4-3 in overtime Thursday and 2-1 Friday.

“That was a playoff atmosphere,” Checkers’ coach Mike Vellucci said of the two games in Cleveland. “They needed the victories badly, and I think playing in that kind of atmosphere will help get us ready for the playoffs.”

The first two games against the Bruins will be on Easter weekend in Providence. Game 1 is set for 7:05 p.m. Saturday and Game 2 at 5:05 p.m. on Easter Sunday.

The series will conclude in Charlotte, with Game 3 at 7 p.m. April 24 (a Wednesday). If Games 4 and 5 are needed, they’ll be at 7 p.m. April 26 (a Friday) and 6 p.m. April 27 (a Saturday). All home games will be at Bojangles Coliseum.

Vellucci said his team will get a few days’ rest before getting back to work.

“They’ve earned it,” he said. “They’ve played a lot of hockey in the last few weeks, and the rest will do some good. Then we’ll get back to work, early in the week.”

The Checkers finished with a record of 51 victories, 17 losses, and eight losses in overtime or shootout.

But Charlotte was only 4-4 this season against Providence. Two of those losses were in overtime.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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