The Charlotte Checkers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms fired 148 shots and set hockey history Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
But it all ended with a rather routine slap shot.
Less than four minutes after the Checkers and Phantoms broke the American Hockey League record for the longest game, the Phantoms’ Alex Krushelnyski shoveled the puck into the Charlotte goal for a 2-1 Lehigh Valley victory.
It came at the 6 minute, 48-second mark of the fifth overtime, with only a few hundred of the original 5,385 fans still at Bojangles’ Coliseum.
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Krushelnyski’s goal ended two hours, 26 minutes and 48 seconds of hockey, and it put the Phantoms in commanding position to capture the second-round playoff series against Charlotte. Lehigh Valley has a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, with Game 5 set for Saturday evening in Charlotte.
“It became a survival of the fittest,” Checkers’ coach Mike Vellucci said after the game, which ended around 1:10 a.m. “We gave it everything we had.”
Three minutes into the fifth overtime, the teams shattered the AHL record for the longest game, set in 2008 between Philadelphia and Albany. Philadelphia’s AHL franchise is now Lehigh Valley. Albany’s team eventually moved to Charlotte.
“I guess the best thing I can say about this is that it’s a learning experience,” Vellucci said. “Our guys really put their hearts into it.”
The Checkers dominated statistically, piling up an astronomical 95 shots. But Lehigh Valley goalie Alex Lyon was nearly impossible to beat – much as he was Tuesday night in the Phantoms’ 5-1 victory.
“You’ve got to credit their goalie,” said Checkers forward Patrick Brown, who scored Charlotte’s only goal. “He’s really playing well.”
As has been the case in four of Charlotte’s seven playoff games this spring, the Checkers fell behind in the first period.
The Phantoms’ T.J. Brennan’s long shot from the right point bounced off the boards and landed on the stick of Danick Martel, just in front of the left side of the goal. Checkers goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic hadn’t regained his balance from Brennan’s shot, and Martel flicked the puck into the goal. That came with 3:36 left in the period.
The Checkers dominated the second period, tying the score and nearly taking the lead.
They scored when Brown rebounded the puck off the boards and swatted it past Lyon with nearly seven minutes elapsed in the period.
Charlotte, which out-shot Lehigh Valley 14-5 in the period, almost scored 10 minutes later when Andrew Poturalski’s shot from about 10 feet in front of the net bounced off Lyon and skidded in front of the goal. Several players tumbled onto the puck, ending the threat.
The Checkers continued to apply pressure in the third period, peppering Lyon with 11 shots in the first 10 minutes. Both Nicolas Roy and Aleksi Saarela nearly scored on slap shots, and Lyon spent a chunk of the period lunging to make saves.
The first overtime was evenly played, and both teams had excellent opportunities. The Checkers’ best chance came with 15 minutes gone in the period, when Poturalski deflected a shot by Philip Samuelsson, but Lyon made a glove save.
Charlotte dominated the second overtime, piling up a 15-5 edge in shots. The Checkers’ best chance came at the 18:15 mark, when Saarela and Poturalski both got point-blank shots at goal, but Lyon came up with the saves again.
The third overtime brought the game’s first penalties since the second period. The Checkers were called for too many men at the 6:39 mark, and then Valentin Zykov was whistled for tripping at the 9:15 mark. But Charlotte didn’t allow a Lehigh Valley shot during those four minutes.
The Phantoms were penalized 16 minutes into the period, and the Checkers had several shots – but as was the case all night (and morning), Lyon was impossible to beat. Charlotte outshot the Phantoms 12-1 in the third overtime.
3 who mattered
Krushelnyski (Lehigh Valley): After more than seven periods of hockey, Krushelnyski had enough energy left to score the winning goal.
Alex Lyon (Lehigh Valley): Lyon spent a good part of the game lunging, sprawling and reaching to stop Charlotte shots. He made 94 saves – four short of the AHL record – and was spectacular in the second and third periods, when the Checkers outshot the Phantoms 31-15.
Alex Nedeljkovic (Charlotte): One night after being pulled in the second period of a 5-1 loss, Nedeljkovic was stellar. He made a great save on an Alex Krushelnyski shot midway in the third period, keeping the game tied.
▪ Checkers coach Mike Vellucci said his decision to replace Nedeljkovic in goal with Jeremy Smith during the second period of Tuesday’s 5-1 loss was a one-night decision. “I changed him for momentum, more than anything else,” Vellucci said. “He (Nedeljkovic) has been great all year and I’m not worried about him.”
▪ The teams get two days off before resuming their series at 6 p.m. Saturday at Bojangles Coliseum. Any additional games in the series will be next week in Allentown, Pa.
▪ The NHL’s record for longest game is eight overtimes, set in the 1936 Stanley Cup finals, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0. That game went 8½ hours. The Checkers-Phantoms game Wednesday night and Thursday morning was, in comparison, a “brief” six hours-plus.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle