Press release provided by the Charlotte Checkers
HERSHEY, PA - In the tightest contest of the Atlantic Division Finals thus far, the Checkers used a late goal from Stelio Mattheos to secure a 3-0 series lead.
Deadlocked at one with just over two minutes to go in regulation, the Checkers pushed the puck up the ice and fired a puck on net, with the rebound popping out to the right of Hershey netminder Vitek Vanecek. Trailing the play, Mattheos swooped in and hammered the loose puck home, pushing the visitors on top for the first time all night. Aleksi Saarela would deposit a final dagger into the empty net minutes later for his second of the game to clinch the 3-1 final.
Prior to notching the game winner, the Checkers were locked in defensively as they held off a hard push from the Bears. Part of that including three consecutive penalties resulting in eight minutes of power play for Hershey through the first half of the frame. Charlotte’s penalty kill lived up to their regular-season prowess, though, stifling the Bears on all six of their man advantages throughout the game.
Alex Nedeljkovic played a key role in that stingy play, shaking off a first-period strike from Nathan Walker to shut Hershey down for the final 40 minutes of play, finishing the night with 17 saves on 18 shots.
Coach Mike Vellucci on the third period
It was all penalty kill. We killed off eight minutes in the third period and we were down some forwards with (Tomas) Jurco going out today and (Clark Bishop) out. The guys that jumped in did a great job. Give (Assistant Coach Ryan Warsofsk) credit again because that PK didn’t give them a sniff. Your penalty kill is as good as your goalie and Ned made some big saves when he had to.
Vellucci on going 6-1 in the playoffs despite missing players due to injury and callups
We’ve said it and it’s kind of a cliché and it gets a little old, but guys are stepping up. Everybody’s got to step up. Sellgren gets his first game in a very tough environment in a smaller rink and handled it outstandingly. I thought he was really good and he’s going to be a really good player. The next guy steps up and takes advantage of the opportunity and we’ve been very fortunate to get that from everybody.
Vellucci on Mattheos’ winner
It’s obviously huge timing-wise, but I thought their goalie made a big save on (Julien) Gauthier on the breakaway before that. We got a lucky bounce that goes to Mattheos but he buried it. He didn’t let up. It’s a fortunate bounce but you earn your bounces too.
Vellucci on potentially closing the series out tomorrow
We just want to play well every game. If you can get some rest, that would be great. It was a battle tonight and we expect it to be a battle tomorrow. They’re very well coached and they’re very competitive guys. You saw it tonight – it was not easy. It was a very physical, tough, emotional game and we got a good bounce at the end.
Vellucci on the injury to Jurco
I’m not sure. I think he’ll be alright, but I thought Bishop was going to be alright too and I was wrong on that. I’ll let the trainers tell me when they’re ready.
Nicolas Roy on the penalty kill
I think our PK is doing really good. We have a lot of video so we know what they’re doing and we adjust pretty well. We’ve just got to keep going that way and keep going hard. That’s the way we want to play.
Roy on the win
We knew coming here that they would come flying in their own building and that it was going to be a tough start for us because they would come hard. We played pretty good and we handled them in the first and then came back. I think that’s a pretty good game for us.
Roy on new players contributing
I think we’ve been pretty good all playoffs with that. We’ve had a couple of injuries and all the guys coming in the lineup are ready to go. Mattheos got a big goal for us today and Sellgren played pretty good. All the guys coming in are playing well.
Stelio Mattheos on the third period
Just weather the storm. The building was pretty loud and the crowd was into it, and the PK was huge in the third. It was just one shot at the end.
Mattheos on adjusting to the pro game
It’s professional hockey and it’s guys’ jobs here. Everyone is bigger and faster and I had to learn that you can’t take a breath out there and it takes everything you’ve got. I’m feeling more confident every night.
This is the first time the Checkers have ever led 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. They won three straight to sweep a best-of-five series with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season … The Checkers’ fifth straight playoff win is a new franchise record. They have won 23 of their last 28 games since Feb. 22 … The Checkers did not record a shot on goal for the first 17 minutes of the third period … The Checkers went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, including 4-for-4 in the third period … Mattheos, who completed his junior hockey career in March, scored his fourth goal in 18 career professional games … This was Aleksi Saarela’s first career multi-goal game in the playoffs. He had five multi-goal games in the regular season … Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 17 of 18 shots to improve to 5-1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in the playoffs … Andrew Poturalski returned after missing the last game due to injury and picked up two assists. He has at least one point in all six playoff games he’s played and is tied with Toronto’s Jeremy Bracco for the league lead in scoring with 12 points (5g, 7a) … Morgan Geekie picked up an assist to extend his playoff point streak to seven games, tying the franchise record set by Zach Boychuk in 2011 … This was the Checkers’ first win in Hershey this season. They went 0-1-1 in the regular season … Trevor Carrick has two assists in two games since returning from suspension … Defenseman Dennis Robertson served a one-game suspension for an illegal check to the head … Defenseman Jesper Sellgren made his North American pro debut … Forward Clark Bishop missed the game due to injury … Forwards Scott Davidson and Zack Stortini, defenseman Eric Williams and goaltender Jeremy Helvig were healthy extras.
The Checkers and Bears square off for Game 4 tomorrow in Hershey at 7 p.m.