CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte Checkers and Chicago Wolves had another tightly contested clash in game two of the Calder Cup Final, with the home-standing Checkers looking to even the series before the series shifts west.
Charlotte came into game two looking to put together a full 60-minute effort, after falling in game one despite being the better side for probably 40-to-45 of the 65 minutes played. The Wolves had really only been in control of the majority of the second period and all of overtime, but that was enough to rally from two down and eventually win the contest.
Game two had a similar feel at times, but Charlotte did a much better job of staying poised and controlled on Sunday. The Checkers once again built a two-goal second period lead only to have the Wolves erase it, but this time that was as far as the visitors could get. Charlotte regained the lead late in period two, then played keep away and ran clock in the third before adding an empty netter to win 5-3.
The action started early on, as a Charlotte penalty gave Chicago an early power play. The Checkers are the best in the league at scoring shorties, however, and they showed that once again to grab the lead. Nick Schilkey was the man who made it happen, as he charged the point and blocked a pass that bounced to his teammate Zach Nastasiuk. As soon as Schilkey saw the direction the puck was going in, he took off like a shot in anticipation of a potential breakaway. The potential was realized when Nastasiuk’s lead pass hit Schilkey in stride, who flew in and released a quick shot that beat Oscar Dansk to make it 1-0, Charlotte. It was the fifth shorthanded tally of the playoffs for Charlotte, three more than anybody else.
The Wolves fought back immediately, though, equalizing 57 seconds later. The goal came after Charlotte was once again aggressive at the point looking for a turnover, only this time, Zac Leslie eluded the defender and dropped the puck off to Cody Glass. Glass sent it down to Keegan Kolesar in the near corner, who then turned in on goal and wrapped the puck around Charlotte goalie Dustin Tokarski and in to pull Chicago level.
The game went to the middle frame even at a goal apiece, but then the offensive floodgates opened for each side. The second segment featured a total of five goals, and was complete with momentum changes and swings in emotion.
Charlotte was first to grab control of Uncle Mo, scoring twice in fourteen seconds to suddenly take a two-goal edge. First, 5:34 into the frame, it was Nicolas Roy finding twine, as he deflected a shot from Haydn Fleury past Dansk to make it 2-1. Then, before the previous goal could even be announced, Stelio Mattheos took advantage of a defender without a stick and swooped in to steal the puck in the Chicago zone. Mattheos immediately picked his spot and wired a wrister that forced its way through Dansk to make it 3-1, Checkers.
Chicago is never going to just go away, however, and responded with two skillful goals from Gage Quinney to even the score. The first one came with an even 13 minutes left on the second period clock, as Jake Bischoff took a pass from Daniel Carr and chipped a shot towards goal. Quinney was in front waiting, and was able to get a stick on it in the air and direct it past Tokarski to pull the Wolves within a goal.
Quinney then cashed in on a power play 4:13 later, showing off his speed and hands to tie the game. It came off the rush, as Glass found Kolesar, who then saw that Quinney had a step and sent him in on goal. Quinney protected the puck while holding off the chasing d-man, then pulled the puck to his backhand in tight and lifted a shot over the arm of Tokarski and in.
It looked like the game would head to the third period even at three for a second straight game, but Charlotte had other plans. The Checkers regained the lead for good with 1:07 left in the second, as Martin Necas sent a cross-ice pass to Tomas Jurco who blasted a one-timer that Dansk thought he had stopped, only to then see it trickle over the line. The eventual-winner was the seventh of the postseason for Jurco, and gave the Checkers a lead to protect in period three.
Charlotte locked it down in the third, limiting Chicago to just four shots on goal over the final frame. The Wolves pulled Dansk for the extra man, but with a minute left, Roy flipped a pass down the ice. That sent Andrew Poturalski in alone to slip the puck into the empty net to secure the victory and make the final score 5-3 in favor of the home squad.
The drama was not over, however, as with a mere 0.8 seconds remaining a massive brawl broke out. It started after an unnecessary cross-check from Charlotte that rightly upset the Wolves, but Curtis McKenzie completely lost his composure. He came flying in and started punching Steven Lorentz and would not stop even as Lorentz was laying vulnerable on his knees. Even as the officials tried to pull him off, McKenzie released one more uppercut to the jaw of the exposed Checker.
I’ve followed McKenzie’s career for a while, and what I saw last night I haven’t seen before. That said, it was without a doubt a gutless move in the moment to continue pummeling a vulnerable player. McKenzie received received a total of 27 penalty minutes and two game misconducts at 19:59 of the third — two for instigating, five for fighting, ten and game misconduct for instigating in the final five minutes, and ten and a game misconduct for being the aggressor. The instigator in the final five minutes penalty carries an automatic one game suspension unless rescinded, which it absolutely should not be in my view.
The next game comes Wednesday out west in Rosemont, Illinois, with faceoff set for 8:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. CT inside Allstate Arena. With Charlotte’s win, the series will be deadlocked at one and one when the puck drops for the first of three in Illinois.
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