Checkers Even Series in Epic 2 OT Thriller

Game 3 to Decide the Series is Friday Night

April 20, 2023

Charlotte, NC – It was another incredible multiple-overtime game between the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Charlotte Checkers with shades of the epic five-overtime marathon and longest game in AHL history from five years ago. This one would fall short of that record but had just as much drama and excitement along the way as the Charlotte Checkers finally broke through in the game’s 99th minute for a hard-fought 5-4 win with just 1:12 remaining in the second overtime.

With the Best of Three series now tied at 1-1, Lehigh Valley and Charlotte will play again on Friday night to decide who advances to Round 2 and who goes into the offseason. After almost 99 grueling minutes of hockey in Game 2, it will be a test of wills and determination in the rematch less than 24 hours later.

Lucas Carlsson blasted home the winner from the high slot past the stick-side of Sam Ersson shortly after Ersson made another one of his incredible saves denying Connor Bunnaman from the right of the cage when Ersson kicked up his left leg scorpion-style while sprawled on his belly. That wasn’t the first of Ersson’s jaw-dropping denials on the night. But moments later, the puck popped out to Carlsson for the winning strike. Despite giving allowing five goals in the contest, Ersson turned in an incredible performance that featured several hard-to-believe game-savers through the two overtimes.

The Phantoms trailed twice in the third period but put together yet another Rally for Lehigh Valley to force overtime. Olle Lycksell struck for a pair of goals in the third period and Elliot Desnoyers scored with 6:25 left to even the score at 4-4 just minutes after the Phantoms had been trailing 4-2 in the intense and emotion-packed contest.

Charlotte raced out to a quick start with two goals in the opening minutes of the game to take a 2-0 lead. Justin Sourdif converted on the power play at 4:44 followed in quick succession by Calle Sjalin’s rocket from left point after a Mackie Samosevich pass across the crease perfectly caromed out to the Checkers defenseman from the rounded corner boards. Ersson made a sparking denial  with the left pad on a redirected drive by Lucas Carlsson to keep the score from getting to 3-0.

The Phantoms bounced back and carried the play for the rest of the first period as they cranked out 15 shots and received four power plays. Artem Anisimov scored from a sharp angle at the bottom of the right circle for a 5-on-3 goal with 42 seconds left in the frame following close calls for Garrett Wilson and Tyson Foerster had been knocked away.

Charlotte maintained its 2-1 lead through a scoreless second period but certainly wasn’t bereft of opportunities. The Checkers peppered Sam Ersson with 17 shots on goal in the second but the Phantoms’ netminder made several strong stops while the Checkers also misfired on some of their best chances. Charlotte also had a shot off the post in the second and even received a penalty shot for Justin Sourif with 1:37 left when a desperate Phantoms defense covered a loose puck in the crease behind Ersson. Sourdif had a strong move but his quick maneuver to the backhand was denied off the edge of the right pad of Ersson to keep the margin at 2-1.

Lycksell scored the first of his two goals just 40 seconds in the third period when Adam Brooks found him in the right circle to blast home the equalizer. Just minutes later, Brooks from the left corner had a long seam pass that perfectly hit Lycksell at the right dot ut somehow Charlotte goaltender Mack Guzda got across in time to make a spectacular glove save that left Lycksell in disbelief.

The Checkers broke the tie on a power-play rifle from the top of the right circle by legendary veteran Cory Conacher at 6:46 into the third for a 3-2 lead. And former Phantom Connor Bunnaman returned to familiar territory when he scored a greasy goal down low on a rebound at the net-front at 9:24 to put the Checkers ahead 4-2.

But the Comeback Phantoms went to work yet again. Ronnie Attard picked off a clearing try and quickly connected with Lycksell for a chip-in at the net front with just 7:57 left to pull the Phantoms back to within a goal.

Then it was the Phantoms forecheck getting to work and causing headaches for Guzda. With Wilson barging in to disrupt the Checkers, Bobby Brink quickly fired a pass from behind the goal through a maze of Checkers defenders in the slot that somehow found Elliot Desnoyers on the other side in the right slot for the big blast to tie the game with 6:24 remaining.

Both teams exchanged strong chances in the third but it was eventually onto overtime in the same building where the Phantoms and Checkers had gone to five overtimes in the longest game in the 87-year history of the American Hockey League in an epic 2018 showdown.

This one would go late into the night as well and actually saw more quality scoring chances in the two incredible overtimes than did the five OT marathon from five years ago. Ersson’s series of unbelievable saves included 18 total stops in the extra periods and also some open-ice 4-on-4 in the second OT as well as an abbreviated power play.

Guzda also made several impressive stops in the Charlotte crease to hold off the Phantoms. Carlsson’s bomb from the high slot finally ended matters at 10:55 p.m. with just 1:12 left in the second overtime period.

The final game of the Best of 3 series takes place on Friday night in Charlotte. If the Phantoms win then they will advance to the second round to play the first-place Providence Bruins in a Best of 5 series in the division semifinals.

1st 4:44 – CLT, J. Sourdif (A. Heponiemi, M. Kiersted) (PP) 0-1
1st 6:06 – CLT, C. Sjalin (M. Samoskevich, D. Franco) 0-2
1st 19:17 – LV, A. Anisimov (G. Wilson, T. Foerster) (PP, 5×3) 1-2

3rd 0:40 – LV, O. Lycksell (A. Brooks, C. Marody) 2-2
3rd 6:46 – CLT, C. Conacher (L. Carlsson, R. McAllister) (PP) 2-3
3rd 9:24 – CLT, C. Bunnaman (M. Kiersted) 2-4
3rd 12:03 – LV, O. Lycksell (R. Attard) 3-4
3rd 13:36 – LV, E. Desnoyers (B. Brink) 4-4

2nd OT 18:48 – CLT, L. Carlsson (2) (J. Ludvig, C. Bunnaman) 4-5

LV 42 – CLT 50

LV 1/5, CLT 2/5

LV – S. Ersson (L) (1-1) (45/50)
CLT – M. Guzda (W) (1-0) (38/42)

Best of 3 Series is even at 1-1