By Cliff Mehrtens
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s looked more like a bus station than a locker room lately.
That didn’t matter for the Charlotte Checkers, who despite missing six players they had two weeks ago, beat the Columbia Inferno 5-2 in Game 4 of the ECHL playoff series Sunday at Cricket Arena.
The best-of-5 series will be decided at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Columbia, where the Inferno won Games 1 and 2.
Columbia had three more skaters available Sunday than the Checkers. Still, Charlotte won its second straight with more guts, Dusty Jamieson (two goals, three assists), Ryan Glenn (goal, three assists) and Alex Westlund (32 saves).
“It seems like we’ve done it all year,” Jamieson (pictured) said. “We’d get injuries or call-ups all at the same time. No one doubted it. This team has battled through a lot.”
What seemed like a crushing blow to the Checkers’ hopes was losing three after Saturday’s win. Defenseman Rory Rawlyk and forward Lee Falardeau were recalled by Hartford of the American Hockey League, and defenseman Kenton Smith left town because of a death in his family.
Already missing were regulars Steve MacIntyre (Hartford), Mike Wirll (concussion) and Juris Stals (playing in the world championships for Latvia).
“You don’t ever want to play shorthanded …,” Jamieson said. “We’ve battled through it all year, and were in first (place) most of the year because of it.”
Testament to Charlotte’s verve? Two goals were short-handed.
The Checkers spotted Columbia a goal in the first 82 seconds, as the Inferno peppered Westlund with six shots. Charlotte tied it on Dan Preston’s poke-in late in the first.
Jamieson, with two goals in the past 15 games, scored twice in the second for a 3-1 lead. His wicked forehand on a short-handed breakaway made it 2-1, and six minutes later, he tapped in a rebound on Glenn’s power-play slapshot.
“Alex Westlund gave us a reason to believe in the first five minutes, and the guys took it from there,” coach Derek Wilkinson said. “The fact that (the short roster) has happened to us so much is something we could draw from.”
Charlotte backchecked with enthusiasm, killed 4-of-5 penalties and stood up for each other in scrums. It set up a win-or-go-home finale.
“The guys really believed they could do it,” Wilkinson said. “When you can look across the room and know that guy’s giving everything he’s got, and you can do the same for him, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”