Hockey

Charlotte Checkers close out Providence, advance to 2nd round of AHL playoffs

The Checkers’ Jacob Pritchard, left, and his teammates celebrate after his first-period goal in Friday’s 4-1 series-clinching win over the Providence Bruins. The goal was Pritchard’s first of his professional career.
The Checkers’ Jacob Pritchard, left, and his teammates celebrate after his first-period goal in Friday’s 4-1 series-clinching win over the Providence Bruins. The goal was Pritchard’s first of his professional career. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

That’s one down.

The Charlotte Checkers took the first step on the road to the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup by closing out the Providence Bruins, 4-1, Friday night in front of a crowd of 6,479 at Bojangles Coliseum.

The Checkers won the best-of-5 series, 3-1, and will host the first two games of the second-round series next weekend.

The Bruins didn’t go down easily. They outshot the Checkers in the final period, got a bit chippy much of the night, and really weren’t out of the game until Charlotte’s Andrew Poturalski scored an empty-net goal with 29 seconds left.

“I thought we played pretty well, actually,” Checkers coach Mike Vellucci said. “We got a little loose early in the third period, but we tightened up.

“Things got a bit nasty. They (Bruins) kept going to the end.”

The Bruins took a chance Friday night, starting Kyle Keyser in goal. It was the first professional game for Keyser, who 48 hours earlier was playing with Oshawa in the Ontario Hockey League (junior hockey).

Keyser played well early, but the Checkers finally broke through with 2:28 left in the first period when Jacob Pritchard scored his first goal as a professional.

“Pritchard’s goal was big,” Vellucci said. “Their goalie was making big saves. In his first pro game, he looked good. That goal broke the momentum.”

Charlotte opened the gap by scoring twice in a four-minute span of the second period. Rookie Morgan Geekie made the score 2-0 with his fourth goal of the series, and Poturalski scored on a rebound for a 3-0 lead.

Providence narrowed the gap on a Jeremy Lauzon goal just 2:36 into the third period, and the Bruins swarmed the Checkers net for much of the closing 20 minutes. Charlotte goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic, who had a shutout in Game 3, made spectacular back-to-back saves on Anton Blidh and Zach Senyshyn about two minutes after Lauzon’s goal.

The Checkers’ defense held firm, and Providence pulled Keyser for an extra attacker with 3:25 remaining.

Poturalski, who scored five goals in the series, said his empty-netter was the culmination of Charlotte’s hard work.

“They were really pressing us,” he said of the Bruins. “We knew we had to step it up a notch.”

CLT_CHECKERS_PROVIDENCE_03
Charlotte Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (30) stopped 25 of Providence’s 26 shots Friday night. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

3 who mattered

Andrew Poturalski, Charlotte: Poturalski scored on two of his three shots.

Alex Nedeljkovic, Charlotte: Checkers goalkeeper stopped 25 of Providence’s 26 shots and allowed only one goal in the final two games of the series.

Jacob Pritchard, Charlotte: His first professional goal was memorable. He scored on a difficult angle from the right side of the goal, giving the Checkers a 1-0 lead.

Worth mentioning

The Checkers’ second-round opponent will be decided Saturday night. Hershey and Bridgeport Sound are tied 2-2 in their series, with Game 5 in Bridgeport, Conn.

The playoffs switch from best-of-5 to best-of-7 the rest of the way. Game 1 in the second-round series will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Bojangles Coliseum, with Game 2 at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Kyle Keyser was the third goalkeeper used by Providence in the series. Zane McIntyre played Games 1 and 3, both won by Charlotte. Dan Vladar was in the nets in Game 2, which the Bruins won.

Keyser played two years ago in the juniors with Nedeljkovic, the AHL Goalkeeper of the Year.

They said it

“I kept telling myself to worry about myself, not about anything else. The more you play, the less you think about it.” – the Checkers’ Jacob Pritchard, on being a rookie in the playoffs.

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