It’s been a while since the Charlotte Checkers played playoff hockey, but they celebrated the return of the postseason in style Thursday night.
Lucas Wallmark scored twice, Andrew Miller and Brendan Woods added a goal each and goaltender Tom McCollum stopped all 20 shots by the Chicago Wolves to give the Checkers a 4-0 win in the first American Hockey League playoff game ever held at Bojangles’ Coliseum.
It was also the first playoff game anywhere for the Checkers since the 2013 season, and an AHL playoff format which sets up a 2-3 schedule for teams located more than 300 miles gave this one some extra urgency.
“We know it’s going to be harder tomorrow because they’re going to regroup and are going to sense some desperation,” Checkers head coach Ulf Samuelsson said about Friday’s Game 2 in Charlotte. “They don’t want to go home 0-2 for sure.”
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Three who mattered
Lucas Wallmark, Charlotte: Scored a pair of goals (including an exclamation-point empty-netter in the last 90 seconds) and assisted on another to lead the Checkers’ offensive effort. His first goal, at 7:44 of the second period, put the Checkers in control of the game.
Andrew Miller, Charlotte: Assisted on line-mate Wallmark’s first goal, taking advantage of a Chicago turnover and scored one of his own in the third period.
Tom McCollum, Charlotte: Recorded his second shutout of the season and won his 10th game in 11 starts since joining the Checkers on loan from the Calgary Flames organization on March 8.
▪ Woods scored Charlotte’s first goal 11 minutes and 27 seconds into the game, poking in a rebound of Trevor Carrick’s shot from the left circle.
▪ The Wolves finished the AHL regular season tied for fourth in goals scored, and had three players score 20 or more goals. But a tight-checking Charlotte defense didn’t allow them to get much going. The Checkers frequently knocked Chicago players off the puck in the Charlotte zone, and the Wolves were still in single digits for total shots on goal until late in the second period.
▪ The Checkers host their last home game of the best 3-of-5 series at 7:15 p.m. Friday night at Bojangles’ Coliseum. The series moves to Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago for a 3 p.m. Sunday game. Games 4 and 5, if necessary, are scheduled for 8 p.m. next Tuesday and Wednesday.
He said it
“You could sense there were some guys that were a little nervous. Some guys handled it well. ... Some guys will be a lot better tomorrow.” – Samuelsson, on his players who were in their first pro playoff
“The first few shifts was kind of tough and the legs weren’t there, but after that I came into it. ... It was fun to play and fun to be back.” – Wallmark, on returning after missing four games due to injury
“They’re going to be desperate. ... They’re going to come out hard tomorrow and we’ve got to match that again.” – Checkers defenseman Haydn Fleury
Charlotte — Woods 1 (Carrick, Chelios) 11:27
Penalties — Robertson CHA (hooking) 4:47; Butler CHI (tripping) 8:43; Agostino CHI (slashing) 19:19; Zykov CHA (interference) 19:51
2. Charlotte — Wallmark 1 (Miller) 7:44.
Penalties — Woods CHA (hooking) 8:03.
3. Charlotte — Miller 1 (Wallmark, Zykov) 16:09 4. Charlotte — Wallmark 2 (unassisted, en) 19:23.
Penalties — none
Shots on goal: Chicago 6-6-8-20; Charlotte 9-6-12-27
Goaltenders: Chicago — Husso (58:27) 26 shots-23 saves; Charlotte: McCollum 20-20
Power plays: Chicago 0-for-3; Charlotte 0-for-2
A — 3,526 (at Bojangles’ Coliseum)