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Checkers' Season Ends in Final Game of First Round

Tough loss ends spirited run down stretch of season

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

The Charlotte Checkers were one of the hottest teams in the American Hockey League heading into their first round Calder Cup Playoff series against the Chicago Wolves.

They then took the top team in the Western Conference to a fifth and final game and fell just short from advancing to the second round in a hard-fought 3-2 loss.

Video: Checkers' season ends after dropping decisive Game 5

It was a sudden and abrupt end to a season that, just over three months ago, was headed downhill. The Checkers, though, didn't let that slide gain too much momentum, as the team clawed its way back into the playoff race in the final months of the season. A sizzling 13-2-4 record in their final 19 games earned the Checkers their first playoff berth since 2013.

"It's an exciting group," first year head coach Ulf Samuelsson said before Game 1. "They worked hard to get here, and we're ready to go out there, work hard and have some fun."

The Checkers dominated Game 1 - "We played our system and played our way. 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," defenseman Haydn Fleury said after the game - in a 4-0 shutout win. The Wolves bit back in Game 2 before the series shifted to Chicago, but Charlotte scored a Game 3 win in overtime to take a 2-1 series lead.

The next two games in the best-of-five series didn't play out favorably for the Checkers, and that was that. The loss in a decisive Game 5 was a tough loss, as the Checkers fell down 2-0 early before making it a one-goal game late in the third period - but that's as close as they would come.

It was a tough loss, a battle to the very end after a spirited run down the stretch of the season.

Impressive, all things considered, and it's a group that shows tremendous promise, not only for next season but for the future of this organization.

"There's always opportunity given to a lot of players in this organization, and when you're given it, you've just got to take advantage," defenseman Jake Chelios said. "There's a lot of competition, but that's not a bad thing."

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