CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte Checkers played host to the Providence Bruins in game four of their Atlantic Division Semifinal Friday night, with the Checkers needing just one win to end the series and eliminate the Bruins. Providence came into the fourth meeting of the series knowing it needed a better effort than the third outing if the season was to continue to a winner-take-all fifth game.
Charlotte controlled play throughout on Wednesday, bottling Providence up defensively and getting three points from Andrew Poturalski in a 3-0 win.
Poturalski had an incredible series for the Checkers, and that continued Friday night. He had two or more points in each of the four games against Providence, finding twine twice in game four to close the series with a playoff-leading nine points (5G, 4A). Nobody else in the league has more than six. His patience and vision allowed him to pick apart the Providence defense, and his knack for the moment provided Charlotte with the clutch goal whenever it was needed.
Game four started with the visiting Bruins coming out like a team with their backs to the wall as expected, and on top of that, the Checkers seemed to take their time getting their game going. Providence drew three penalties in the first 10:48 of the contest, but the power play unit was unable to take advantage and grab the early lead. Early power plays are great if you cash in, but if you don’t, momentum can start to go the other way in a hurry. That is what happened on Friday night.
When the third power play ended, shots were 7-5 in favor of the Bruins. However, the Checkers pounced as soon as it ended and outshot the Bruins 8-2 over the remaining 7:12 of the first. Providence goalie Kyle Keyser held his ground in his first period of professional action, but one Charlotte shot did elude him before the frame finished.
With 2:28 left in period one, the Checkers took the lead when Jacob Pritchard cashed in on an intelligent play. He took a pass in the corner from Nicolas Roy and spun and threw the puck on goal looking for a rebound or a lucky bounce. He got that lucky bounce when the puck hit off the skate of Keyser and found space inside the near post to give the Checkers the 1-0 lead through 20 minutes.
The second period was the difference in the series for the Checkers, as they outscored the Bruins 6-0 in the middle stanza over the four games. Friday was no different, as Charlotte thwarted Providence’s attempt to regain the initiative by sticking twice in the middle portion of the second segment.
First, with 12:59 to play in the second, rookie Morgan Geekie found the back of the net for the fourth time in the series. The goal came after an absolutely gorgeous saucer pass from Steven Lorentz, who lifted the puck from down low up to about a foot in the air over the sticks of Keyser and the Bruins defense and onto the tape of Geekie cutting towards the back post. Geekie redirected the puck up under the crossbar and off the top netting and out so fast there was a brief discussion about if it had even gone in, but one look at replay showed the water bottle on top of the net move as it was hit from below. The goal gave Geekie the team lead in goals, but that only lasted a few minutes.
Just 4:03 later, Poturalski struck for his first of his two tallies. He started the play with a beautiful pass through the neutral zone to spring Aleksi Saarela on a breakaway. Saarela’s shot was blocked into the corner by Keyser, where a Bruins defender slipped allowing Poturalski to get to the loose puck first. He circled out from the corner and wired a shot from below the near dot that beat Keyser to the blocker side. Poturalski’s fourth made it 3-0 Charlotte with 8:56 to play in period two.
The score held through the remainder of the second, and Providence went to the third knowing its back was truly against the wall now. Charlotte came into the game 40-0-0-0 between the regular season and playoffs when ahead after 40 minutes of play. The Bruins did not shrink in fear, however, and left the locker room determined to give all they had to try to rally over the final 20.
Charlotte had taken a penalty in the closing seconds of the middle frame, and while Providence didn’t score with the man advantage, it used the momentum gained to get on the board with an early goal. 2:36 into the final frame, Jordan Szwarz won an offensive zone draw back to Jeremy Lauzon at the far point. Lauzon wound up and blasted a slapper through traffic that beat a screened Alex Nedeljkovic and pulled Providence back into the game at just 3-1 down.
The Bruins turned the offense to full attack mode trying to rally, but Nedeljkovic stopped 10-of-11 in the period to slam the door. Providence pulled Keyser for the extra attacker with just over three minutes to play, but it was not meant to be for the group from Rhode Island. Poturalski found the empty net for his team-and-league-leading fifth with 30 seconds to play, and Charlotte won by a count of 4-1.
With the win, Charlotte eliminates Providence in four games and advances to the Atlantic Division Final to face either the Bridgeport Sound Tigers or Hershey Bears. That series is currently locked at two games apiece, with a deciding Game Five set for Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT in Bridgeport. The Checkers split eight games with the Sound Tigers in the regular season (4-4-0-0), while falling in three-of-four against the Bears (1-2-0-1). No matter which squad they face, the Checkers know they will face a difficult opponent in the next round.
As the top seed in the Atlantic, Charlotte (51-17-7-1, 110 Points) will have home-ice advantage over either second-seeded Bridgeport (43-24-6-3, 95 Points) or third-seeded Hershey (43-25-4-4, 94 Points). The schedule has yet to be announced, but expect a two-three-two format, with games one and two as well as potential games six and seven inside Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte.
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