By Cliff Mehrtens
© 2005 Charlotte Observer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The sign above the television in the Charlotte Checkers locker room is as descriptive as it is inspirational.
“A team’s strength is in its will.”
Words to win playoff games by.
The resilient Checkers beat the Florida Everblades 4-1 in Game 4 of the ECHL semifinals at Cricket Arena on Sunday.
The best-of-7 series, tied 2-2, switches to Florida for Game 5 on Tuesday. Charlotte will host Game 6 at 7 p.m. Friday.
The scenario was the usual for a Checkers playoff victory — goals by four players, standout goaltending by Alex Westlund (34 saves) and stout defense.
“We did the little things,” said defenseman Ryan Glenn. “Got the puck out of our end, and played simple hockey.”
Charlotte scored first for the third time in four games. The first two goals were close-range, and six minutes apart in the first period.
Lee Falardeau camped in the crease, deflected in Glenn’s slapshot for a 1-0 lead. It was his seventh playoff goal.
Jason Dawe made it 2-0 on a quick forehand shot that capped a 3-on-2 break. It was the first goal in 13 playoff games for Dawe, who has 366 games of NHL experience.
“They don’t give up, and they played hard and finished all their checks,” said Florida wing Ernie Hartlieb. “That’s something we’re going to have to change in Game 5. We’re going to have to finish our checks, all of us.
“That was the difference tonight.”
Coach Derek Wilkinson called Charlotte’s first period “probably the best we’ve played in the playoffs.”
“They had far fewer chances to score the last two games than the first two,” Wilkinson said. “If we can do that (in Game 5), we’ll have a chance to win.”
Charlotte sealed it with two goals less than four minutes apart in the third period. Bogdan Rudenko flipped in a backhand rebound, and captain Ryan Cuthbert caromed in a goal off a Florida defender to make it 4-1. Rookie defensemen David Liffiton and Glenn had two assists apiece.
“Florida’s lineup against ours, they’ve got a better skill set,” Wilkinson said. “But you can’t measure heart and character. … We just keep going after it, and we got all the bounces.”
Florida had two goals disallowed in the third period. The first came when the puck trickled beneath Westlund’s leg pads, and was whistled dead just before it was tipped in. The second no-no came when Reggie Berg was in the crease on a shot.