CHARLOTTE - The Charlotte Checkers took Game 1 of their best-of-five first round Calder Cup playoff series against the Chicago Wolves with a commanding 4-0 victory. Here are four things to note from the Checkers' first playoff action in four years.
1. McCollum Solid in Net
Tom McCollum was a driving force behind the Checkers late-season push to the playoffs, and he remained strong in net tonight with a 20-save shutout. Since joining the team on loan from Calgary on March 8, McCollum had posted a 13-2-4 record down the stretch and was a rock solid 9-1-0 at Bojangles' Coliseum. Tonight, he didn't see a ton of work, but he remained steady when called upon.
"He made some big saves at the right time," head coach Ulf Samuelsson said. "We're lucky to have him."
One save that jumped out was his sharp pad stop on former Hurricane Ty Rattie in the third period. That denial, McCollum's 18th of the game, preserved the Checkers' 2-0 lead, which they stretched to three goals shortly after.
"He's awesome," defenseman Haydn Fleury said of McCollum. "We wouldn't be here without him, and we're glad to have him."
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2. Defensively Sound
The biggest reason why McCollum didn't have to see much - he saw just 12 shots through 40 minutes - was the sound team defensive play of the Checkers.
"I thought our structure was very solid throughout the whole game," Samuelsson said. "Good structure, good five-man defense and a couple good saves."
"We played our system and played our way," Fleury said. "We didn't give the top guys a lot of room or a lot of respect. We got the puck deep and worked the defense."
3. Wallmark Stays Hot
Lucas Wallmark returned to the Checkers lineup tonight after missing four games due to injury, and the rookie forward didn't miss a beat. After leading the team in goals in the regular season with 24 (also a new Checkers' rookie record), Wallmark added two tonight in a three-point effort (2g, 1a).
Wallmark's first tally came in the second period, as he finished off a cross-ice feed from Andrew Miller, who tallied a goal and an assist, to give the Checkers a 2-0 lead. He added an empty-net goal in the final minute of the game.
"I'm trying to take the pucks to the net when I get a good chance," Wallmark said. "It's always fun to score."
"He's grown tremendously as a player," Samuelsson said. "He is a smart player, and I'm so excited that he's getting rewarded with some points as well."
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4. One Down
That's one. The Checkers, who won a franchise-high 27 games at home in the regular season, now have the opportunity on Friday night to take a 2-0 series lead to Chicago.
"They're going to be desperate. They had a push at the start of the third, and I thought we matched that," Fleury said. "They're going to come hard tomorrow, and we've got to match that again."
"We know it's going to be harder tomorrow. They're going to regroup and sense a little desperation," Samuelsson said. "They don't want to come home 0-2, for sure. It's going to be a very tight, hard game tomorrow."