Fiala & Mazanec Steal Show; Ads Win 4-3 in OT

(Photo Credit: Charlotte Checkers // flickr)
(Photo Credit: Charlotte Checkers // flickr)

The Milwaukee Admirals won 4-3 in overtime against the Charlotte Checkers on the road Wednesday night at the Bojangles’ Coliseum.

This game had a little bit of everything tonight. The Admirals held a 3-1 lead but the Checkers rallied back with their net emptied and the extra attacker on to force overtime in the final three-minutes of regulation. That only set the stage for Marek Mazanec and Kevin Fiala to provide a true curtain drop on the evening. Fiala might have scored the goal of the season to win it in overtime.

It was a far better start for the Checkers tonight who played better out the gate than at any point last night. This paid off when Phil Di Giuseppe flew past Trevor Murphy down the left wing and won a wrap-around race against Marek Mazanec to record his eighth goal of the season.

The Checkers first period pressure had the Admirals firmly pinned into their own half of the ice for the majority of the frame. Perhaps Frédérick Gaudreau was simply trying to flip a puck up and out of his defensive zone at the time but what resulted in his clearance was setting up Anthony Richard for a breakaway. The speedster zipped in on Michael Leighton and beat him low to the stick side with a hard forehand shot to pick up his first AHL goal a day after recording his first AHL assist.

After a roughing call against Valentin Zykov the Admirals scored with seconds remaining on a power-play to go up 2-1 early in the second period. Pontus Åberg worked himself free down the left wing wall. After getting loose he skated in towards the face-off circle and fired a shot from the dot that snapped past Leighton for the Swede’s tenth goal of the season.

On an overlapping power-play the Admirals scored early in the third period to extend their lead to 3-1. Gaudreau passed back to the point where Trevor Murphy was all alone. He stepped up into the high slot and smashed in a trademark howitzer of a slap shot for his ninth goal of the season.

The third period would get nasty as a scrum broke out that saw dual fights take place. It is hard to do proper justice to all that occurred in the fracas but the net result was a fight between Adam Payerl and Keegan Lowe and a fight with Derek Army and Sergei Tolchinsky with game misconducts given to the latter brawlers and a boarding major to Payerl.

For all that occurred, the five minute major penalty kill as well as a misconduct that sat down Jimmy Oligny for ten minutes, the Admirals survived. Unfortunately, all that they had endured seemed to sting them with the repeated attacks of the Checkers coming wave upon wave to Mazanec’s doorstep.

With 4:38 remaining in regulation the Checkers brought Leighton off and the extra attacker on. They found a gap in transition when Andrej Nestrasil slid a pass from the right wing down towards the rushing Patrick Dwyer who finished on the backhand to get the game down to 3-2 from Dwyer’s sixth goal of the season.

The Checkers were continually pressing and Leighton made his way to the bench again with 1:13 remaining and the Checkers were able to tie things up at 3-3 with 19.2 seconds left in the contest. A shot from the high left point by Haydn Fleury redirected in the slot by Lucas Wallmark snuck past Mazanec to level the game. It was Wallmark’s twelfth goal of the season. And the Checkers went from being down 3-1 to tied 3-3 in the final three minutes of regulation.

It seemed as if the Checkers could have been destined for a monumental comeback victory tonight. They had two high quality breakaway chances in three-on-three overtime but Mazanec came to the Admirals rescue. He first denied Jake Chelios who beat a tripping Murphy at neutral ice. He then stayed grounded along the mouth of goal to stop Andrew Poturalski on both his initial and follow up chances.

That just simply wasn’t how this game was going to end. Kevin Fiala delivered one of the best goals scored this season to win it for the Admirals in overtime. He had the puck on a string attached to his stick as he guided around two Checkers defenders and then came to a completed stop once he reached the glove-side of Leighton who –at that point– completely sold out on Fiala’s speed to the net and laid out. Fiala stopped, yo-yo’d the puck back to a shooting position, and flipped it into the wide open net over the left pad for the game-winner and his third goal with the Admirals this season.

For all the theatrics that this game provided you cannot take Mazanec’s performance in net for granted. He made a career high forty-three saves in net tonight. It is the second time in his Admirals career that he recorded forty-plus saves. The last time he accomplished the feat it came on 2/7/15 on the road against the Rockford IceHogs in a 7-5 Admirals win.

The next adventure on this four-game road trip for the Admirals just so happens to be the final games of the 2016-17 season at the Allstate Arena. The Admirals will face the Chicago Wolves on Saturday and Sunday. From there, the Admirals will finally get a little home cooking with a four-game homestand that begins Tuesday against the Cleveland Monsters.

Ramblings: Since the Milwaukee Admirals played last night there were pleasantly no roster moves made in the organization. Last night defenseman Alex Carrier made his NHL debut for the Nashville Predators in a 1-0 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Carrier played 10:49 of ice time from nineteen total shifts and recorded a blocked shot in his debut. Tonight’s line combinations and scratches were exactly the same as last night: Florek: Florek-Smith-Åberg, White-Kamenev-Fiala, Richard-Kirkland-Gaudreau, Liambas-Army-Payerl, Pardy-Murphy, Oligny-Pinkston, Diaby-Dougherty. Scratches: Cody Bass (lower-body), Shawn O’Donnell (healthy), and Max Görtz (healthy). Marek Mazanec recorded his tenth career AHL assist tonight. Since calling the Bojangles’ Coliseum their home last season the Checkers have now hosted the Admirals six times and lost every single game.

What is your reaction to all of what that game just was? What caused that melee in the third period and did that take enough of a toll on the remaining group to allow the Charlotte Checkers back in at the end of regulation? Kevin Fiala isn’t going to be here for long is he?

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