Justin the nick of time – Checkers win 3-2 in the shootout with goal from Krueger

After dominating a big chunk of the game, the Charlotte Checkers topped the Houston Aeros 3-2 in a shootout Friday evening. The Checkers had a second period goal from Nic Blanchard and a game-tying goal from Justin Faulk with 12.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Justin Krueger scored the game-winner in the shootout. David McIntyre and Marco Scandella found the back of the net for Houston.

The Checkers got off to a strong start in the first period, outshooting the Aeros 11-4 and dominating the scoring chances. Drayson Bowman nearly put the Checkers on the board when he was fed a pass in front from Zac Dalpe, but the veteran forward pushed the puck wide off of a Houston defender’s lumber.

Checkers goaltender Dan Ellis was able to stay sharp which isn’t always easy with so little action.

“You have to move with the puck, move as the puck moves”,said Ellis, “and hopefully that gives you enough rhythm that when the puck does come that you have a little bit of a feel.”

Matt Hackett kept the game scoreless through the first, fending off all of Charlotte’s chances. He even battled through the fierce heckling from a misguided fan donning a Roberto Luongo sweater.

The Checkers’ hard work finally paid off seven minutes into the second period when Nic Blanchard tipped in a feed from Jerome Samson. Samson, bringing some skill to the fourth line, split through the Houston defenders to create a 3-on-1, slipped a pass over to Blanchard who redirected it in as he barreled into the goal.

Minutes after the Checkers took a 1-0 lead, Houston phenom and Minnesota’s top prospect Mikael Granlund moved in on a breakaway, deked forehand to backhand and attempted to go top shelf on Ellis, but the Checkers netminder came up with a brilliant glove save.

With under a minute remaining in the second, the Aeros knotted it up at 1 on a rebound goal by David McIntyre. Following a seeing-eye shot from the point, the puck squeezed through the pads of Ellis and McIntyre buried the rubber in the back of the net.

The Aeros completed the momentum shift early in the third when defenseman Marco Scandella saw an opening and snuck behind the Checkers defense and buried a wide open chance on Ellis, giving Houston a 2-1 advantage.

The Checkers didn’t get discouraged falling behind. They kept a majority of the play in the Houston zone and had a plethora of scoring chances throughout the period before Justin Faulk drew the game even at 2 with 12.8 seconds remaining in the game. Faulk received the puck at the point, hesitated and fired a slapshot through traffic that clipped Hackett’s glove and found the back of the net.

Justin Krueger scores in the seventh round for the Charlotte Checkers (Photo - J. Propst)
Justin Krueger scores in the seventh round for the Charlotte Checkers (Photo – J. Propst)

After a scoreless overtime period, Justin Krueger made a nifty move in the seventh round of the shootout to sneak the puck past the extended left pad of Hackett to give the Checkers the advantage where Ellis made short work of Nick Palmieri’s chance. Jerome Samson, Chris Terry and Zac Dalpe also scored in the shootout for Charlotte.

In their 26th game of the year, the Checkers have reached the first intermission of the 2012-13 season, however there isn’t much of a break to resurface the ice, let alone catch their breath with a game at noon tomorrow in Charlotte, and Sunday afternoon in San Antonio.

After a rough start to the home stand, Krueger was enthusiastic after the game about the direction his team is heading.

“It’s important for teams to have character and come back together and learn from those mistakes and why we lost those games and take the momentum,” Said Krueger, “We’ve got to keep rolling here.”