The last time the Charlotte Checkers visited Giant Center during last year’s Calder Cup playoffs, an overtime goal by Nicolas Blanchard crushed the Bears’ playoff hopes and sent them to the golf course for the summer. However, on Saturday night at the same venue, Tomas Kundratek’s bone crunching hit on Blanchard in the third period knocked him from the game and propelled the Bears to a 2-1 win, their 5th straight victory.
Up until the time the Kundratek hit was registered at exactly the six minute mark of the third period, the Bears had created little in the way of offense against the Checkers and goaltender Mike Murphy, but trailed only by a goal largely in part by goaltender Dany Sabourin, who was making his 6th straight start between the pipes for the Bears. However, the situation changed less than two minutes later when Chris Bourque intercepted a clearing pass at the Charlotte blueline and found Cody Eakin who managed to beat Murphy from close range to tie the game at a goal each.
“I tried to go down low to Kaner and the guy got his stick on it,” said Bourque. “I don’t know if he was trying to ice it, but I just gloved it down and snapped a high pass to Eakin and he was behind the D and all alone.”
Twenty-one seconds after Eakin earned his 12th goal of the season, Sabourin, on his side, repelled Riley Nash’s attempt to give his club back their lead and kept the game tied at a goal apiece.
“The shot was coming on my blocker side and I was trying to deflect it in the corner, but it hit the inside of my blocker instead and bounced right back to his stick. The puck was bouncing and he really couldn’t get a good shot. I put my glove in front of it. I’m just glad I stopped it,” said Sabourin.
A boarding penalty to Charlotte’s Sean Dolan at 13:58 sentt the Bears’ potent power play unit, which had been denied in their three previous chances by the visitors, on the ice for another try, only this time with the game in the balance. Murphy and company managed to keep the Bears at bay for the first forty-seven seconds of the advantage despite some pressure. But then during a stoppage in play, Bears’ head coach Mark French made a tactical decision and called for a timeout instead of waiting until the end of the game. The move paid dividends when the man his teammates call “Potsy”, Ryan Potulny, potted his 25th goal of the season.
“I thought that one unit had generated some good offensive chances early in the power play. I thought it was a good time to utilize it to try to keep those guys out for two minutes. We had changed a little bit of the strategy of what we had wanted to do in the power play in the zone, and we just wanted to talk as a group and get a quick breather so those guys could play the full two minutes,” explained French.
Despite the fact that the Bears played the last 1:34 of the game shorthanded due to a Zach Miskovic penalty and the fact that the Checkers had pulled Murphy for an extra attacker, Sabourin and his supporting cast weathered the storm to give the club their 36th win of the season.
Sabourin, who stopped 30 shots to notch his 16th win of the season and has backstopped the Bears to wins in his last five starts, acknowledged that he is playing very well, but refused to shoulder all of the success himself.
“It’s a streak as a team because guys are blocking shots and diving to keep the puck out,” Sabourin said,” “They hung in there tonight, so every win we get is because of the team.”