Charlotte Checkers on verge of sweep after rallying for win at Hershey

Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

The Charlotte Checkers killed off four power plays in the third period, then rallied with two goals in the final minutes for a 3-1 victory on the road Tuesday night in Hershey, Pa.

The Checkers, now up 3-0 in the second-round Calder Cup best-of-7 series, can complete a sweep Wednesday night in Hershey.

Very little went right for Charlotte in the final half of the game.

The Checkers squandered a 5-on-3 advantage late in the second period, after Hershey was whistled for two penalties.

Then in the third period, with the score tied 1-1, Charlotte was hit with a rash of penalties. Jacob Pritchard was sent off just 26 seconds into the period for delay of game. Then Nick Schilkey got a double-minor (four minutes) at the 4:31 mark.

And when Schilkey left the penalty box at the end of his double-penalty, he was penalized for touching the puck with his stick before he was fully out of the box. That gave Hershey two more minutes of power play.

But Charlotte’s defense came up huge. The Checkers limited the Bears to just three shots during their eight minutes of power play.

Then Charlotte’s offense got going. Stelio Mattheos scored on an assist from Trevor Carrick with 2:08 remaining, giving the Checkers a 2-1 lead. Hershey pulled goalkeeper Vitek Vanecek shortly afterward, and Aleksi Saarela scored into the empty net – his second goal of the game – to clinch it.

The Bears took a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a goal by Nathan Walker.

Charlotte tied the score at the 6:32 mark of the second period, when Saarela scored on a powerful wrist shot from about 20 feet to the left of the Hershey goal.

3 who mattered

Aleksi Saarela, Charlotte: Saarela scored on a blazing wrist shot in the second period, then clinched victory with an empty-net goal with 57 seconds remaining.

Alex Nedeljkovic, Charlotte: The Checkers’ goalkeeper helped Charlotte kill off six Hershey power plays. He stopped 17 shots – 11 in the first period, when the Bears applied heavy pressure.

Trevor Carrick (Charlotte): Carrick was a big part of the Checkers’ strong defensive play, and he added an assist on the winning goal.

Worth mentioning

The Checkers played without defenseman Dennis Robertson, who was suspended by the AHL for one game for an illegal check to the head in Saturday’s Game 2.

Tuesday night’s game marked the 50th anniversary of Hershey winning the Calder Cup. The Bears beat the Quebec Aces in the finals in 1969.

The Checkers now know who they’ll face in the next round if they win the series against Hershey. The defending AHL champion Toronto Marlies completed a 4-0 series sweep over Cleveland on Tuesday night, winning 6-2.

What’s next?

Charlotte plays at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Hershey in Game 4. If a fifth game is needed, it will be played at 7 p.m. Friday in Hershey. Games 6 and 7 would be in Charlotte.