Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 05/03/11 at 12:16 AM ET
On Monday night at the Time-Warner Cable Arena, the Charlotte Checkers beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2-1 in overtime to take a 2-1 lead East Division final series of the Calder Cup playoffs. Charlotte will host the next two games Wednesday and Friday nights. Oddly, they have done in three post-season games what they could not do in eight regular season games: beat the Penguins twice. They lost all four home games in the regular season, but won the first home playoff game between the teams. It just goes to show that the playoffs are a completely different animal.
Chris Collins of the Penguins scored at 13:23 of the first, and for a long time it looked like Pens goalie Brad Thiessen was going to be unbeatable again. At 9:45 of the second, Nick Dodge finally snapped a Checkers scoreless streak that lasted four and a half periods. His fourth goal of the playoffs ended up being the last goal of regulation.
Just 5:40 into the bonus frame, Brett Sutter potted the game winner from right out in front. His third marker of the postseason was assisted by Zac Dalpe and Jacob Micflikier. Checkers goalie Mike Murphy made 26 saves for the win.
Murphy, whose praises I was just singing, is now in the top six in every goalie stats category. His GAA has plummeted from 2.17 to 1.98. His save percentage has climbed from .929 to .933. He’s neck and neck with Thiessen in most categories, but Thiessen’s GAA is much lower. In the AHL’s Western Conference, there are two goalies who are blowing everyone away, but in the East, Murphy is the hot rookie goaltender.
Sutter’s goal, by the radio account, was a bit of a shocker. The way they described it, he was right in front of the net, but nobody expected him to take the shot. No matter what, he found the back of the net and it looks like a howitzer from the top of the circle in the box score. It’s getting a little old saying things like “Sutter is having a really surprising playoff season”, but I don’t think anyone expected him to be sitting on eight (3/5) points through nine games. If I had to bet, I would have wagered that he would have one goal and two assists at this point. However, he is a Sutter after all. Last season, he had an eerily similar production. In the 2009-10 regular season, he had 24 (9/15) points in 66 games for the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames). That’s 0.36 points per game. This season, he had 21 (9/12) points in 60 regular season games with the Checkers. That’s 0.35 points per game. In the post-season, he really turned it on last year, putting up 11 (4/7) points in 13 games. That’s 0.85 points per playoff game. This post-season, he’s put up eight (3/5) points in nine games so far. That’s 0.89 points per playoff game. We’ll see if he can maintain that pace. If he does, he’ll make a case for himself to get a closer look for the big team roster in the fall.
Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe are probably “more ready” than Sutter to make the leap, and I fully expect them both to spend the majority of if not the entirety of the 2011-12 season in Raleigh. I can see Sutter getting shuttled back and forth with the likes of Micflikier, Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson.
The attendance for Monday’s game was a little over 3,700, and I still think that Wednesday’s game might have a slightly smaller gate. Friday, though, should be huge.
In the other half of the Eastern bracket, the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa Senators) have a surprising 3-1 lead in their series against the Portland Pirates (Buffalo Sabres). The B-Sens are lower seeded than Charlotte, so if it ends up that the Senators advance and Charlotte advances, the Checkers would have “home ice”. Not that it has mattered to Binghamton.
Either way, if the Checkers can get past the Penguins, it’ll be the best a Hurricanes AHL team has ever done in the playoffs. Sure the Springfield Indians won the Calder Cup in 1991 as the Whalers AHL team, but since the move to Carolina, this will be their best showing in the playoffs.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.