The Checkers continued their hot streak on home ice, downing the Milwaukee Admirals in a Saturday night thriller.
Including Phil Di Giuseppe’s winner with 1:30 remaining in regulation, five different Checkers scored goals as the Checkers ultimately prevailed in a wild 5-4 victory on Hornets Night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
After finding the scoreboard early in the first period thanks to a Chris Terry deflection, the Checkers added two quick strikes in the second to surge out to a 3-0 lead less than three minutes into the middle frame.
The Admirals, who entered the game holding the third-best record in the Western Conference, would not go down easily, however, as they notched three unanswered goals in the second, sending the game into the third period knotted at three.
There were fireworks midway through the final frame, as several players tangled up and fought in front of goalie John Muse’s crease, including Admirals’ goalie Magnus Hellberg, who left his side of the ice to exchange blows with Muse.
When the dust settled, 82 total penalty minutes were doled out, including game misconducts to both starting goalies, forcing Drew MacIntyre and Marek Mazanec to finish the games for their respective teams.
Once the game resumed, rookie Brock McGinn put the Checkers in front with a wrister from the slot that beat Mazanec. The Admirals answered quickly, but it was Di Giuseppe who came through with the game-winner. With 90 seconds remaining in regulation, he found the loose puck in the crease and put it home to lift the Checkers to a 5-4 victory, their third straight at home.
The Checkers entered the contest having lost five of their last six, while the Admirals had won six of their previous nine games. Finally being able to get back in the win column against such a solid opponent certainly provides a boost for the young squad.
“It’s huge,” said head coach Jeff Daniels. “Right now we need wins so they’re all big right now, but it was an exciting game, back-and-forth. I thought we came out with a little more excitement with our game and some timely goals. Overall it was a good win for us.”
“I think it’s the biggest win of the season so far especially with the last three games there,” said rookie defenseman Trevor Carrick, who finished the night with a trio of helpers. “I thought the work ethic was there in the last three but we just weren’t getting the bounces we wanted. Tonight it paid off and the boys are pretty happy in the room right now.”
After the Checkers cruised ahead to a three-goal lead in the second, the Admirals came roaring back, testing the home team’s resolve.
“We kind of let up there in the second and they scored three big goals, and it was all about going out there in the third period, winning the period and winning the game,” said Daniels.
“We ran into some penalty problems and let them back in the game, McGinn said. “We went back in the room in the second intermission, got our focus back, came out and had a good third.”
Starting in goal for the Admirals was Magnus Hellberg, who entered the game as the AHL leader in both goals against average and save percentage, and Milwaukee overall boasted the least goals allowed in the league. The Checkers struggles with offense have been well documented, but they were able to find success throughout the game against the stingy Admirals defense, with five different skaters lighting the lamp.
“You just want to get those second chances and crash the net,” McGinn said. “They aren’t going to be nice going in on a goalie like that. We just wanted to get pucks toward the net and crash.”
“No matter who we’re playing we needed to score goals and it was good for some guys to step up and get some big goals,” said Daniels. “They [Milwaukee] are a team that doesn’t give up a whole lot, so we talked this morning about how when we get those chances we’ve got to capitalize. I thought for the most part we did.”
During the Checkers’ three-game winning streak on home ice, they have out-scored their opponents 14-7. They will return to their home ice tomorrow afternoon for a rematch with this Milwaukee team looking to continue their dominance in the friendly confines of Time Warner Cable Arena.
“Your home rink is where you want to set the standard and let them know what type of team they’re going to play,” said Daniels. “Make it a hard game and a hard two points, and I thought we did that tonight.”