The first two games of the Charlotte Checkers’ opening-round Calder Cup playoff series against Providence were a bit … well, strange.
The Checkers’ 3-0 victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night was a bit more like Charlotte hockey, according to one of the Game 3 standouts.
“Those first two games, they scored in waves, and it seemed like when they got one, they were getting two,” Charlotte goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic said. “To put a zero up on the board felt really good.”
Charlotte, up 2-1 in the best-of-5 series, can close out the Bruins in Game 4, set for 7 p.m. Friday at Bojangles Coliseum. If a fifth game is needed, it will be at 6 p.m. Saturday in Charlotte.
The Checkers, the American Hockey League’s best team during the regular season, and Providence are among the league’s top defensive clubs – but you couldn’t have proved that from the series’ first two games.
Charlotte took the opener 5-4, in a game that featured a five-goal first period. Providence swarmed the Checkers net throughout much of Game 2 and won 4-2.
Wednesday night’s contest was tightly-played, with Nedeljkovic making 20 saves for the second playoff shutout of his career.
Andrew Poturalski and Morgan Geekie gave the Checkers a 2-0 lead in the first period, and the rest of the game was a defensive struggle. Poturalski’s second goal of the game, early in the third period, completed the scoring.
“I thought our D played really well,” Charlotte coach Mike Vellucci said.
The Checkers were minus three regular defensemen – one due to injury and two because of suspensions. It meant more ice time for backliners Derek Sheppard and Eric Williams, neither of whom had ever played in a professional postseason game.
“Shep and Willy getting thrown in there without playing a playoff game yet? I thought they were really good and moved the puck well,” Vellucci said.
Nedeljkovic said he expects another closely-contested game Friday.
“We fought hard, and they didn’t make it easy,” he said. “It’s going to be a grind again on Friday night.”
Poturalski said the absence of the two suspended defensemen – Bobby Sanguinetti and Trevor Carrick – was “tough.” But he added, “Those guys came in and filled their spots and stepped up huge.
“We’ve been a deep team all year, and whenever someone comes in and steps up, that’s definitely big for us.”
▪ Attendance on Wednesday was 5,191, and the Checkers said the crowd was a plus. “You could tell the crowd was into it, and when they’re into it, you just want to play that much harder,” Nedeljkovic said.
▪ The Checkers were 5-for-5 on the penalty kill. The Bruins behaved themselves, giving Charlotte only one power play. The Checkers didn’t score.
▪ Poturalski hounded the Bruins’ defense all night. He had five shots, and Vellucci said he “hit two or three crossbars after that.”
▪ Sanguinetti will be available Friday night, having completed his one-game suspension. Carrick has two more games to serve.
▪ The Bruins perhaps should have quit after two periods, trailing 2-0. Charlotte is 40-0 this season when leading after two periods.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle