Checkers storm back, but Rivermen prevail


( — The battle between two of the AHL’s hottest teams on Thursday night ended up being a doozy.

Down 4-0 midway through the third period, the Charlotte Checkers reeled off a furious rally, including Zach Boychuk’s goal with five seconds left to force overtime, but the team ultimately fell to the Peoria Rivermen, 5-4 in a shootout.

Boychuk had three points for the Checkers (1g, 2a) to extend his point streak to five games (1g, 7a). Bobby Sanguinetti scored the team’s first two goals, with Riley Nash adding the other. The Checkers out-shot Peoria 54-28 on the night, with Peoria’s Mike McKenna stellar up until the Checkers’ comeback.

Peoria couldn’t have gotten on the board much earlier than they did when scoring leader T.J. Hensick broke down the right wing and fired a shot over Ellis’ glove at the 33-second mark of the first period. The goal was among the fastest the Checkers have given up to start a game in their three-year history, trailing a goal they allowed to Binghamton after 26 seconds on Feb. 18, 2011.

Scoring on their first shot would prove to be important for the Rivermen, who were immediately put on their heels by the Checkers’ attempt to equalize. The home team led 8-1 in shots after just five minutes, a trend that would continue throughout the game, but goalie McKenna and the team’s penalty kill stood tall.

That was especially true in the second period, when three Peoria penalties in 1:35 gave Charlotte just over two and a half minutes of consecutive power play time, including a full two minutes spent at five-on-three. The Checkers inability to score on any of those chances dropped them to 0-for-6 on the night.

As fate would have it, Peoria would capitalize on Charlotte’s first penalty of the game, an interference call on Brett Bellemore, near the end of the second when Mark Cundari’s shot from the point found its way through traffic and behind Ellis. The result was a 2-0 lead for Peoria at the second intermission, despite the fact that they were being out-shot 34-17 at the time.

Peoria would tack on two more goals in the first three minutes of the third period, first on Chris Bruton’s stab at a loose puck and then on Andrew Murray’s partial break that chased Ellis from the game in favor of Justin Peters.

It wasn’t until the Checkers’ 43rd shot that they got their first goal, with Sanguinetti scoring on a backhand that finally broke McKenna’s shutout bid. That opened the floodgates in a big way, with the defenseman scoring again less than two minutes later on a rebound on a shot by Boychuk, who also set up the first goal.

Riley Nash gave the Checkers further hope with his finish of a great Zac Dalpe feed with 1:35 remaining, but the Checkers looked to be running out of time until Boychuk completed his takeover of the game with a backhand goal with just five seconds remaining in regulation.

Peoria scored twice in three shootout attempts, with the Checkers missing all four of theirs.