By Cliff Mehrtens
© 2005 Charlotte Observer
DULUTH, Ga. – Charlotte Checkers defenseman Kenton Smith (pictured) has had an emotional playoffs. His two goals are game-winners, sandwiched around missing two games because of a death in the family.
Smith’s slapshot goal in overtime Tuesday gave Charlotte a 4-3 victory against the Gwinnett Gladiators in Game 2 of the ECHL American Conference semifinals at Gwinnett Center on Monday.
It was Charlotte’s third straight overtime game.
The best-of-5 series, tied at 1, which will shift to Charlotte for Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 4 on Thursday.
Smith’s blast, 7 minutes, 4 seconds into overtime, went high into the net, and was set up when fellow defenseman Dan Preston kept the puck alive by banging it off the glass. The play was set up when winger Steve MacIntyre (6- -6 and 255 pounds) and Gwinnett’s Lane Manson (6-8 and 200 pounds) battled for the puck behind the net.
“Mac’s a big man, and it’s tough to move him,” Smith said. “Dan Preston made a good pinch, and the puck came right out to me. Everybody was swinging the other way, so I figured I’d go in and shoot it. … It was tough (leaving), but I’m happy to be back with my teammates.”
The victory stopped Charlotte’s six-game skid at Gwinnett, and four in a row against the Gladiators, dating to the regular season.
“We held the puck in, forced a turnover and Kenton’s right on the spot,” coach Derek Wilkinson said. “He made a perfect shot. A perfect shot beat us (in Game 1), and tonight a perfect shot beat them. It comes down to doing little things, but if you consistently do them, good things happen.”
Charlotte scored three times in the first 13 minutes. Bogdan Rudenko lifted in a backhand on a power-play after floating into the slot. Two minutes later, defenseman Ryan Glenn skated around a defender and poked in a dribbler for a 2-0 lead.
Rookie Dwight Helminen’s third playoff goal made it 3-0, and turned the arena very quiet.
Charlotte’s early barrage benched goalie Adam Berkhoel, who was 4-0 with a league-best 0.93 goals-against average in the playoffs. The Checkers three first-period goals matched what Gwinnett had allowed in the past three games.
The momentum dissolved in the first 10 minutes of the second when Gwinnett scored three to tie, including two by Chris Durno. As good as Charlotte was in the first, it was wretched in the second.
Play settled in the third, which resembled Game 1.
Both teams had decent scoring chances, but Checkers goalie Alex Westlund and Sean Fields (who replaced Berkhoel) were sharp.