Most of the 6,757 fans who watched the Charlotte Checkers rally for a 5-4 overtime victory Sunday afternoon at Bojangles Coliseum probably would consider Valentin Zykov the game’s star.
Checkers’ coach Mike Vellucci might not argue the point, but he says goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic’s play a few minutes before Zykov’s amazing game-winning goal was equally big.
The Checkers had blown a 4-1 lead against the Rochester Americans, and less than a minute into overtime, the Americans had a two-on-one breakaway. But Nedeljkovic, who logged his second shutout of the season earlier in the week, stopped the breakaway.
Seconds later, Zykov took control of the puck and skated past four Rochester players before firing the game-winning shot past Americans’ netminder Linus Ullmark.
Vellucci marveled at the display of speed Zykov showed on that play, but he added, “We don’t get to that point if Ned (Nedeljkovic) doesn’t make that save on the two-on-one there. It was a huge save for us.”
The Checkers’ youth was a factor in the comeback by the Americans, whose roster is full of older players, Vellucci said.
“We played a little loose tonight, and that’s a great team over there with a lot of experience,” Vellucci said of Rochester, the top farm team of the Buffalo Sabres. “They put a lot of pressure on us in the third (period).”
Sunday’s victory capped a homestand and an interesting week for Charlotte, which played to a full house one night and an empty house the next.
Here’s how the week went:
Tuesday: A full house of 9,000-plus at Bojangles Coliseum watched the Checkers blank the Bridgeport Sound 3-0. Nedeljkovic logged the shutout, and Warren Foegele had two goals and an assist.
Wednesday: With several inches of snow on the ground and travel discouraged, the Checkers told fans to stay safe – and stay home. They closed admission to the arena, and the Checkers battled back from a 3-1 deficit for a 4-3 victory over Bridgeport. Lucas Wallmark scored two goals, including the game-winner on a five-on-three power play with 4:31 left.
Saturday: Wallmark scored a goal, but the night was otherwise forgettable for the Checkers, who fell 4-1 to Rochester.
Standings: Charlotte is fourth in the Atlantic Division, four points behind third-place Lehigh Valley.
Week ahead: The Checkers hit the road, playing Friday and Saturday nights at Hartford.