A four versus five matchup is sometimes hard to get a full grasp on when you’re simply working from a paper box score, and an armful of stats. Many times there is a great divide among the two teams, and that’s immediately known from the time the puck is dropped until the final horn sounds. Then there are time where both squads resemble each other just enough, and match up so well that the closeness of their seedings are spot on.
Friday night, in the opening round of the Calder Cup series between the Checkers and Barons, the two teams couldn’t have been more akin to one another.
The first period was an excellent one for the home team, and a semi-good one for the visitors. Ultimately the Barons would take each opportunity afforded them to really beat the Checkers at their own game. One way they appeared to accomplish this task was in the number of attempted long passes. Doing so allowed the Barons to move the puck quickly up ice, and nudge the defenders back on their heels.
It was Teemu Hartikainen that scored the first goal of the game, with assists from Toni Rajala and Josh Green. Rajala, in particular, created a dandy setup by gloriously circling the puck behind the net working in “Gretzky’s Office”. The goal would put the Barons up 1-0 early in the game.
Hordichuk would have a goofy interference call that gave Charlotte an extra skater, but the Barons killed it quickly.
Smart puck moving, great passing, high energy shot taking, and dominate faceoff victories led to an entirely punishing period for the Barons. But Charlotte would be resilient.
A two minute penalty from the elbow of Tyler Pitlick, would give the Checkers another power play chance. Things seemed to be going well until Justin Shugg netted his teams first goal of the game to tie it up, 1-1. It wasn’t a magical goal, but it did open a bit of a lazy Pandora’s box for OKC.
At the midway point of the period, the Barons continued to do the opposite of what they’d done in the first, and Charlotte would take the lead as Brody Sutter banked in a wrap around shot off the skate of Martin Marincin.
Then OKC turned the tides by skillfully playing the puck around the goal mouth. C.J. Stretch, with an incredible head fake, got Madore to pounce forward as he would choose to wrap the puck around the net. But that power play goal wasn’t the end of the late period scoring for the Barons. 21 seconds later, Josh Green would make an incredible move of his own, and flip the puck over the Charlotte goaltender. Suddenly the Barons take the lead again, 3-2. Ryan Murphy would would take a late period interference penalty when he up ended Tanner House, but a minute later with time expiring, Taylor Fedun would do the same. A brief moment of four on four hockey would be played to start the third period.
It wouldn’t take long for the Checkers to quickly tie the game. Zach Boychuk would net the second power play goal for the Checkers on the night against a Barons squad that hadn’t let in an extra skater goal in seven straight games. Just like that, the teams were knotted at three to start the third period.
The period would go back and forth with Yann Danis putting on a spectacular show for the entire duration. The Riley Nash line was unbelievably potent, but OKC survived. Time expired and overtime was forthcoming.
Three minutes into the third, Brody Sutter would tip in a Brett Bellemore shot to end the game. The Charlotte Checkers would defeat the Oklahoma City Barons in sudden death, 4-3, and also take a 1-0 series lead in the best of five.
Barons Starting Lineup In Game #1
Philippe Cornet – Mark Arcobello – Jonathan Cheechoo Toni Rajala – C.J. Stretch – Teemu Hartikainen
Josh Green – Chris VandeVelde – Tyler Pitlick
Darcy Hordichuk – Tanner House – Curtis Hamilton
Martin Marincin – Taylor Fedun
Brandon Davidson – Garrett Stafford
Randy Jones – Alex Plante.
Niko Hovien (back up)
Scratched:Projected Dan Ringwald (injured); Ben Eager (extra vet); Kendall McFaull, Nathan Deck, Antti Tyrvainen, Ryan Martindale, Joey Leach, Kristians Pelss, Andrew Hotham, Colten Teubert
The line featuring Hartikainen was the best thing on the ice tonight. Sneaky good, and willing to take full control of the offense, they looked red hot. They accounted for two goals and two assists on the night. It’s just amazing to watch Teemu at the AHL level because he has so much confidence, which is seemingly absent at the NHL level. A two point night is good, and I expect much much more from him.
Brandon Davidson took a puck to the knee in the final game of the regular season, and tonight he looked a half-step behind. Twice he lost the puck, and couldn’t move laterally fast enough to get the puck back or make a defensive move. He wasn’t terrible, just off.
Riley Nash – Zach Boychuk – Brody Sutter
This is a weapons grade awesome line for the Checkers. They are the driving force of this team on the offensive side of the puck. The Barons have to close them down some way or another.
Rob Madore was every bit as good as Yann Danis tonight stopping 30 of 33 shots, and that’s what the Checkers need him to be if they want to go deep in the post season. Color me impressed.
Game two is Saturday in Oklahoma City. 7pm, CT.