CHICAGO, I.L. — (By Nicholas Niedzielski) The Checkers flipped the script on Chicago in Game 4, erasing a 3-1 lead to beat the Wolves 5-3 and move within one win of claiming the Calder Cup.
The Wolves opened the scoring quickly, with Nic Hague going coast-to-coast for a goal on the rush, before the Checkers responded minutes later thanks to a seeing-eye point shot from Jesper Sellgren. That would be the end of Charlotte’s offensive production for a long spell, however, with the Wolves striking late in the first and then again in the second to build up a 3-1 advantage.
With the Wolves riding a wave of momentum, the Checkers were able to cut into that lead in the final minute of the second period as Martin Necas collected a loose puck in front and toe-dragged his way around netminder Oscar Dansk and wired one home to send the visitors into the break on a high note.
That tally lit a fire under the Checkers, who came out flying in the third and evened the score just 32 seconds in as Julien Gauthier forced his way around a defender on the rush to feed a crashing Nicolas Roy for the slick tap in.
Charlotte continued to buzz from there, and just past the midway point of the frame it finished off the comeback as Aleksi Saarela unleashed a wicked wrister from the left circle that beat Dansk up high to give the visitors their first lead of the night.
Nicolas Roy would deliver an empty-net strike later in the frame to push Charlotte ahead by two, but Chicago continued to push hard down the stretch, including on a late power-play that produced a flurry of shots on goal. The Checkers wouldn’t break, though, as Dustin Tokarski wrapped up the win with 22 stops to keep his unbeaten streak alive and put his squad ahead in the Finals 3-1.
Coach Mike Vellucci on the game:
I thought obviously they came out flying in the first period. They out-chanced us and out-worked us quite a bit. I actually wasn’t very happy with our first period. I thought in the second period we played better and I had the chances 7-2 for us. We got the big one right at the start of the third period and the momentum changed by that point. Then a big goal by (Saarela), who is dangerous all over the ice no matter where he shoots from. What I was impressed with was that we stayed with it. We talked after the second and third about how we’re going to do this together and be positive together and we were going to make a difference. That was the key. Guys were all in. All in. They stayed positive and carried it over into the third.
Aleksi Saarela on continuing to shoot despite not scoring for several games:
Obviously it’s tough when it’s not going in, but it’s playoffs and we have a hell of a group of guys and four lines who can score, so it helps me a little bit so I don’t have to get so frustrated when it’s not going in. I was relieved to finally score a goal.
The Calder Cup will be in the building for Game 5 on Saturday, with the puck dropping at 8 p.m. eastern.