Checkers shake off another blown lead to Chicago Wolves and even Calder Cup Finals

This time, Charlotte had the final comeback.

The Checkers watched an early lead evaporate Sunday night, but rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Wolves that evened their Calder Cup Finals series at a game apiece.

One night after the Wolves came back from a 3-1 deficit for an overtime victory, the Checkers got the go-ahead goal late in the second period and brought the Bojangles’ Coliseum crowd of 8,378 to its feet with an empty-net score in the final minute.

The series now shifts to suburban Chicago, for Games 3 through 5. The teams play again at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.

“I think we just really dug deep,” said Checkers winger Tomas Jurco, who scored the winning goal. “Our guys were willing to do whatever it takes.”

It took solid defense over the final 20 minutes. Charlotte essentially shut down Chicago’s attack, holding the Wolves to four shots on goal – their lowest total in any period so far in the series. Chicago pulled its goaltender for an extra skater with more than three minutes left, and Andrew Poturalski scored the empty-net goal with a minute to play.

“We really tightened it up in the third period,” Checkers coach Mike Vellucci said.

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For the second straight night, the Checkers built a 3-1 lead, only to see Chicago battle back and even the score.

But Charlotte got the go-ahead goal with about a minute left in the second period, when Jurco fired a 10-foot shot from the right side of the Chicago goal. Wolves goaltender Oskar Dansk appeared to smother the puck, but it slowly slid under his left pad and into the goal.

That gave the Checkers a 4-3 lead, and Charlotte then improved its record this season to 47-0 when leading after two periods.

The Checkers, who scored four short-handed goals in the semifinals against Toronto, got another one Sunday night, by Nick Schilkey. The Wolves tied the score at 1-1 on Keegan Kolesar’s goal moments later, but the Checkers went ahead in the second period on goals by Nicolas Roy and Stelio Mattheos – just 14 seconds apart.

Then the Wolves mounted their rally, scoring twice in less than five minutes on goals by Gage Quinney.

3 who mattered

Tomas Jurco, Charlotte: Jurco had nine shots, one of which slid under Oskar Dansk’s pad for the go-ahead goal.

Gage Quinney, Chicago: Quinney scored two second-period goals, the second on a nifty move that enabled him to skate past two Checkers defenders.

Dustin Tokarski, Charlotte: The Checkers’ backup goaltender ran his record to 11-0 this season with Charlotte. He stopped 20 shots.

Charlotte Checkers center Steven Lorentz, right, fights to maintain control of the puck while battling Chicago Wolves Griffin Reinhart, during first period action on Sunday. Jeff Siner

Worth mentioning

The AHL will look at a fight that broke out with 0.8 seconds remaining. Chicago’s Curtis McKenzie, an NHL veteran, received a pair of game misconduct penalties after appearing to deliver several punches to the Checkers’ Steven Lorentz while he was down on the ice. “There’s a code in hockey,” Vellucci said. “You don’t hit a guy who’s defenseless.”

Stefan Matteau, who scored the overtime goal that beat Charlotte on Saturday night, is apparently a chip off the old block. His father, Stephane Mattheau, scored an overtime goal in a Game 7 that won the NHL Stanley Cup semifinals for the New York Rangers in 1994. That goal is considered an iconic part of Rangers history.

History is against the Checkers battling back and winning the finals. Only five teams in the AHL’s 82 years have lost Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals at home, then rallied to win the series.

The Charlotte Checkers and Chicago Wolves skirmish during first period action on Sunday, June 2, 2019 at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, NC. Jeff Siner

They said it

”We gave up a lead again, but they’re (Chicago) a great team. – Checkers coach Mike Vellucci.

What’s next?

The Checkers and Wolves now head to Chicago, with the series resuming with Game 3 at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

AHL Calder Cup Finals

Chicago Wolves vs. Charlotte Checkers

Game 1: Wolves 4, Checkers 3 (OT)

Game 2: Checkers 5, Wolves 3

June 5, 8 p.m.: at Chicago

June 6, 8 p.m.: at Chicago

June 8, 8 p.m.: at Chicago

June 13, 7 p.m.: at Charlotte*

June 14, 7 p.m.: at Charlotte*

*if necessary; games will air live on NHL Network except Game 4 (1 p.m. Friday). All games stream live on AHLTV.