Playoff hockey is returning to North Carolina.
The Charlotte Checkers, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, snagged a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs and will host Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series against the Chicago Wolves on Thursday and Friday at Bojangles' Coliseum.
This marks the first time since 2013 that the Checkers have qualified for the postseason, and they did so in dramatic fashion.
Tied for last place in the AHL in early January, the Checkers strung together a 27-10-6 record over the last three months of the season, including a scorching 13-2-4 stretch in the final 19 games.
Andrew Poturalski, who made his NHL debut with the Hurricanes on April 4 in Minnesota, led the Checkers in scoring with 52 points (19g, 33a). Rookie Lucas Wallmark, who also made his NHL debut this season and skated in eight games with the Hurricanes, paced the team in goals with 24 (a new Checkers' rookie record) and was named AHL rookie of the month in January.
Aleksi Saarela, acquired from the New York Rangers in the Eric Staal trade, joined the Checkers after the conclusion of his Liiga season in Finland and proceeded to light up the scoresheet. The 20-year-old forward posted six goals and four assists (10 points) in nine games before being injured in the last week of the season.
First-year AHL head coach Ulf Samuelsson guided the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record and a fourth place finish in the Western Conference's Central Division, as Charlotte edged out last year's Calder Cup champion, the Cleveland (then Lake Erie) Monsters, for a playoff spot.
The first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs features a best-of-five set, and the higher-seeded Chicago has opted to play the final three games of the series at home. That means Games 1 and 2 will be held in Charlotte, where the Checkers posted a stellar 27-10-1 record this season. Game 1 is Thursday at 7 p.m. and Game 2 is Friday at 7:15 p.m., and tickets are now available. Hurricanes fans can take advantage of a special ticket offer with $20 best available seats in the gold or platinum seating categories by visiting www.gocheckers.com/playoffspecials and using the promo code PLAYOFFS.
Fans at Bojangles' Coliseum will enjoy food and drink specials during the first round, with $2 hot dogs, $2 popcorn, $1 sodas, $2 domestic beer cans, $4 craft beer cans and $4 draft beer available.