In front of their home fans for the first time this season, the Checkers shook off a slow start to upend the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-2.
The visitors came out of the gates firing, lighting the lamp twice within 90 seconds of each other in the first five minutes. The Griffins would continue to control the majority of the play in the opening frame, but that would be all the scoring.
The second period picked up where the first left off until Keegan Lowe put the Checkers on the board with a laser wrist shot from the point seven minutes in. The home team then pounced on the Griffins, dominating the play and continuing to pile up the chances. Sergey Tolchinsky finally evened things up midway through the period, clapping a one-timer feed from the faceoff circle that ricocheted in past Griffins netminder Jared Coreau.
The Checkers weren’t done, however, as Brock McGinn collected a dish from Derek Ryan on an odd-man rush and buried the puck in the back of the net with just 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock.
Heading into the third period with a one-goal advantage, the Checkers kept their foot on the gas, limiting the Griffins to just eight shots and stifling their comeback attempt. Grand Rapids’ best chance at knotting the game would come in the final two minutes of regulation, when the Checkers handed the Griffins a late power play. But the Charlotte penalty kill came through and McGinn iced the game with a full-ice heave into the empty net for his second of the night and a 4-2 Checkers win.
“We got a little flat footed when they scored the two quick goals there, and that sets anyone back,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “After a while we managed to regain our composure and play our style a little better.
“We had a lot of good second and third efforts in our forecheck. They had a good mobile blue line there so they’re hard to catch, but I think our forecheck was something that stood out tactically in my mind.”
For the Checkers, getting that first goal in the middle frame was just the spark they need to kickstart the offense, and they took advantage of a reeling Grand Rapids team.
“They say a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey,” said Lowe. “You get one and all of the sudden the morale is a lot better and you just go from there. It was nice for me to be able to chip in and help things out from the back end and we rolled from there.”
“We just knew we needed to get that one and we could take off,” said McGinn. “Lowe getting that one was big for us and was a morale booster for that team. We really built off it in the second and third for sure.”
After taking over the lead heading into the second intermission, the key for the Checkers was not letting the Griffins back into the game.
“We had a good feeling in the room,” said Samuelsson. “We didn’t want to slow down at all – we wanted to continue what had been working. We just wanted to push the same pace.”
“The message is pretty obvious internally,” said Lowe. “We need to wipe the slate clean and come out hard. We know what we can do when we’re skating and winning battles and winning puck races. The message was simple to go out there, win the second and third battles and second efforts.”
Although his play had been strong through the opening road trip, McGinn entered tonight without a goal on the season. His two-goal effort couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It was a relief,” said Samuelsson. “He’s been a little frustrated because he’s been working hard but wasn’t rewarded on the score sheet. Today he got a couple so I’m excited for him.”
“It was definitely nice,” said McGinn. “There definitely is that built-up frustration when they’re not going in for you, but if you stick with it and keep your game simple and they’ll come if you’re playing the right way.”
Similarly, the Checkers as a team have gone through a frustrating start to the season, seeing their play come together without the results in the standings. Tonight, however, they were able to break through and take down one of the conference’s strongest teams.
“It’s early in the season and in some of those games we’ve played better than the score has served us,” said Lowe. “It’s nice to come back here against a good team. Grand Rapids is always good and they’ve got some hot players. It’s great to get that win for the fans in the home opener.”
“We’re just working together as a team and getting the chemistry right now,” said McGinn. “We’re working on things that we need to do like our neutral zone and our defensive-zone coverage and things like that. We just want to build off tonight and go out and have some big games.”