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Charlotte Checkers start slowly, but leave no doubt in a milestone playoffs win

Charlotte Checkers’ Clark Bishop, seen above in Game 1, scored the winning goal in Thurday night’s Game 3 as Charlotte completed a sweep of its first-round American Hockey League playoff series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Charlotte Checkers’ Clark Bishop, seen above in Game 1, scored the winning goal in Thurday night’s Game 3 as Charlotte completed a sweep of its first-round American Hockey League playoff series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Special to the Observer

The Charlotte Checkers followed their postseason formula Thursday night, starting slow but finishing strong.

The Checkers came from behind to beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7-3, sweeping their first-round American Hockey League playoff series in three games.

It was the first playoff series sweep in the Checkers’ eight-year AHL history. Charlotte advances to the best-of-seven second round, against the winner of the Lehigh Valley-Providence series.

As was the case in all three games of the series, Charlotte fell behind early. This time, the Checkers trailed 2-0 after just 7:29, but they tied the game on goals by Lucas Wallmark and Greg McKegg in a 21-second span late in the first period.

Charlotte took the lead for good with 2:24 left in the second period, when Aleksi Saarela bounced the puck off Penguin goalkeeper Tristan Jarry’s skates.

The winning goal came from Clark Bishop at the 5:55 mark of the third period. Andrew Miller made it 5-2 at the 7:36 mark on a rising wrist shot. The Penguins closed the gap to 5-3 on Anthony Angello’s second goal of the night, with 6:35 left. But Wilkes-Barre/Scranton could get no closer.

The Checkers widened the margin in the closing 90 seconds, after the Penguins pulled their goalie for an extra attacker, on empty-net tallies by Andrew Poturalski and Janne Kuokkanen.

The Checkers outshot the Penguins 32-29, with Charlotte goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic making 26 saves.

3 who mattered

Andrew Miller (Charlotte): Miller scored a goal and had an assist. His third-period slap shot that beat Penguins’ goalkeeper Tristan Jarry gave the Checkers a 5-2 lead.

Greg McKegg (Charlotte): A former Penguin, McKegg was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes’ organization in February and assigned to Charlotte. He tormented his former teammates in the series, with a goal and an assist Thursday. He had four assists in the series.

Clark Bishop (Charlotte): Bishop’s goal at the 5:55 mark of the third period was the game-winner for the Checkers.

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Charlotte Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (30) made 26 saves in Thursday night’s game. The Checkers came from behind to beat the host Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7-3, sweeping their first-round American Hockey League playoff series in three games. Jonathan Aguallo Special to the Observer

Observations

▪  Penguins’ penalty-minute leader Garrett Wilson got into a first-period fracas with Charlotte defenseman Haydn Fleury, and both players got 10-minute misconduct penalties. Fleury scored two goals in Game 2, so it could be argued that Wilson managed to get one of the Checkers’ top weapons off the ice for 10 minutes.

▪  Charlotte center Patrick Brown made key plays early in the second period, with the score tied 2-2. The Checkers were under intense pressure, and Brown blocked two Penguin shots with his body.

Worth mentioning

▪  The Checkers’ only other playoff series victories came in 2011, when Charlotte advanced through the first two rounds and lost in the Eastern Conference finals.

▪  The Lehigh Valley-Providence series is tied 1-1, with Game 3 on Friday. Lehigh Valley was the Atlantic Division’s top seed; Providence was fourth. Charlotte, which finished third, would play Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at Lehigh Valley, if the Phantoms win. If Providence wins, the Checkers would have home-ice advantage. The second round likely will start late next week.

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