(gocheckers.com) — After a disappointing result in Game 4, the Charlotte Checkers’ season comes down to Saturday.
Facing elimination, the Oklahoma City Barons scored on the game’s first shift and never stopped piling on the goals on their way to a runaway 8-1 win over Charlotte on Friday.
The final score line marked the most lopsided loss in the Checkers’ AHL history, regular season or playoffs.
The South Division rivals, who split their eight-game regular-season series before exchanging victories in the postseason, are now set to meet one final time in a winner-take-all conclusion of their best-of-five series on Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Having had the entire second half of the game to digest this particular loss, the Checkers had already begun looking forward to that match-up by the time the final buzzer had sounded on Friday.
“Whether you lose 8-1 or 2-1, you’re going to Game 5,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It’s a new game.”
With their backs against the wall for the second time in this series — once when the Checkers took an early 2-0 lead in Game 2 at Oklahoma City and again after Charlotte’s 6-1 victory on Wednesday — the Barons once again turned in one of their finer performances.
Philippe Cornet got things going when Mark Acrobello found him completely alone in front of the crease, at which time he put a deke on goalie Rob Madore to score his first of the playoffs. Tyler Pitlick then scored on a long shot from the top of the right circle to make it 2-0, with Chris VandeVelde adding a third off a centering feed from Ben Eager.
It was the start of a tough night for Madore, the rookie netminder who gave way to backup Mike Murphy upon allowing a fourth goal off a three-on-one rush during an Oklahoma City power play early in period two. Madore made 13 saves on 17 shots, while Murphy stopped 16 of 20.
Despite the early disadvantage, Charlotte had its share of chances to get back in the game. Chris Terry, who had two goals in Game 4, had the puck all alone in front of goal for a pair of chances in the opening frame, with Riley Nash hitting the post on another.
When Barons captain Josh Green scored that fourth goal — the result of Charlotte’s penalty killers being overly aggressive with plenty of time still left in the game — the scaled tipped completely toward Oklahoma City, which outshot the Checkers by a 17-3 margin in the second period, scoring three more goals.
Zach Boychuk’s goal, in which rookie defensemen Ryan Murphy found him alone in front of Barons goalie Yann Danis in a play similar to Terry’s first chance in the first period, made the score 6-1 early in the third and extended Boychuk’s point streak to seven games (6g, 4a). While it gave the Checkers energy not previously seen during the game, it ended up being short-lived with Oklahoma City scoring two more times just 40 seconds apart in the following minutes.
Oklahoma City became the first team to score eight goals in a Calder Cup Playoff game since Hamilton’s 8-1 win over Houston in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in 2011, and the first to do so on the road since an 8-4 win by Rochester in Abbotsford during the opening round of the 2010 postseason.
“You’ve got to be excited about it,” said Checkers captain Brett Sutter of Saturday’s Game 5. “We knew they were a good team and it was going to be a long series.”
“I think if you told us we’d have one game for a chance to move on, we’d take it,” said Boychuk. “It’s going to be a dogfight right to the end.”