CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Hershey Bears were looking for better defensive performances in game two of the Atlantic Division Finals; somebody forgot to tell the Charlotte Checkers.
Charlotte had put four on the board in a game one victory of Friday, but nearly doubled that on Saturday. The Checkers fired seven pucks past Bears goalie Ilya Samsonov en route to a 7-3 win to take a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-seven series. The game was closer than the final score may indicate, but as Hershey will tell you, only the end result matters.
The Checkers needed their secondary scoring to step up with leading scorer Andrew Poturalski missing the game due to injury. That happened in a big way, as Tomas Jurco (2G, 3A), Nicolas Roy (3A), Bobby Sanguinetti (3A), and Martin Necas (2G) each had multi-point games, led by Jurco’s stellar five-point effort. Jurco had just one point in the first five games of the playoffs, but exploded in a key time on Saturday to guide his side to victory.
“I think our line needed a game like this, because we didn’t produce as much before,” Jurco said to the media after the game. “We had some chaNces, but it just wouldn’t go in for us. So, it’s a good game for us, and we just gotta keep working.”
The game started well for the Checkers, as less than five minutes in a fortuitous bounce led to the opening goal. With an extra man on the ice due to a delayed call against Hershey, Roy sent the puck to an open Jurco in the slot who attempted to one-time it only to have his stick shatter. Charlotte must be living right, however, as karma was on its side and the puck slid right to Zach Nastasiuk backdoor who pounded the puck home before the Hershey defense could respond. Nastasiuk’s first of the postseason made it 1-0 Charlotte with 15:17 left in period one.
The physical play picked up late in the frame, eventually leading to an undisciplined check to the head by Dennis Robertson. Robertson was ejected and Hershey was given a five-minute major power play, where a broken Charlotte stick led to a goal once again. This time it was Hershey benefiting from the break, as Jayson Menga was left all alone in front of goal when a Charlotte defender left to go replace his broken stick. Menga easily cashed in on a rebound with 2:55 left on the clock to send the game to the second even at one.
The Checkers regained the lead 5:34 into the middle stanza, striking for the first of two very similar power play tallies on the night. Sanguinetti took a pass from Jurco, then wired a pass across the ice to an open Necas. Necas wound up and crushed a one-timer that whizzed past the glove of Samsonov and tickled the twine to make it 2-1 Charlotte.
Morgan Geekie was the next to get in on the fun, potting his fifth of the playoffs on a pretty play to make it 3-1 in favor of the Checkers. He took a pass from Derek Sheppard and flew in on goal with help on the backside. He looked for the pass but the lane wasn’t there, so he quickly pulled the puck to his backhand and lifted it by the blocker of Samsonov to give the home side a two-goal edge.
Hershey cut back into the lead before the second intermission, with Menga once again providing the spark that ignited for a goal. Menga cut around several defenders and flew in on goal, appearing to have Alex Nedeljkovic beat only to have the Checkers backstop make a beautiful sprawling poke-check to knock it away. Ryan Sproul was following the play, though, and blasted the rebound into the yawning cage to send the game to the third with the Bears trailing just 3-2.
That was as close as Hershey could get, however, as Charlotte blew the game open with three straight goals to increase its lead to four.
First, 3:24 into the third, Sanguinetti sent a shot on goal that was turned aside by Samsonov, but Jurco came streaking in on goal and buried the rebound for his first of two tallies in the period. The lead moved to 5-2 three minutes and thirty-three seconds later, as Julien Gauthier split two defenders before stretching for the puck and flicking his wrist to send a shot screaming just under the crossbar and in. Then, with 5:38 to play in the game, Jurco added his second of the game as he fought off three defenders before beating Samsonov by quickly going backhand-to-forehand and whipping a shot home.
The Checkers now led by a hefty 6-2 margin, but the never-say-die Bears continued to play to the final horn. Hershey got back within three with 3:28 left, as Riley Barber had a loose buck slide to him and he turned and smacked a slapper past Nedeljkovic to cut the Charlotte advantage to 6-3.
The final goal of the night came after a late penalty on Hershey, with Charlotte cashing in with the second of its two similar power play strikes. This time it was Jurco with the primary helper, as he took a feed from Sanguinetti along the near boards before spotting Necas wide-open in the opposite circle. Jurco’s pass was perfect and Necas’ blast true to provide the final count of 7-3, Checkers.
“Uh, I think we played pretty well,” Jurco said of his team’s performance after the game. “I think we were pretty responsible and we didn’t turn the puck over as much as maybe some previous games. But, uh, we scored some goals, which obviously, you know, helps and you feel better afterwards. So, I think we played pretty good overall.”
With the win, Charlotte protects the ice inside Bojangles’ Coliseum by claiming both of the first two games at home to take a 2-0 series lead. The series will now head north to Pennsylvania, with games three through five coming inside Giant Center in Hershey. The Bears absolutely must win two of the three to stay alive, and really need to win all three at home or they will have to come back to North Carolina and win a pair to advance. The Checkers have been near perfect in four home playoff games in 2019, outscoring the Bruins and Bears by a combined count of 18-5 in four wins.
Everything may be going Charlotte’s way right now, but they say a series doesn’t truly start until somebody wins on the road. The Checkers know the Bears will be hungry on Tuesday, and that they will need to be at their best to claim a win on enemy ice.
Geekie spoke after the game about what to expect as the series shifts to Hershey:
“Uh, you know, definitely a push back. We won our two games here, but we’Re definitely not done. We’Ve gotta win two more. So, we’Re looking to go there and play the same way we did this weekend.”
Both squads will now have a couple days to travel and prepare, with game two scheduled for Tuesday night in central Pennsylvania. The puck will drop at 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. CT inside Giant Center in Hershey.
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