By Cliff Mehrtens
© 2005 Charlotte Observer
DULUTH, Ga. – It took nearly a perfect shot to get past Alex Westlund.
The Charlotte Checkers goaltender made a team-record 60 saves before Joe Bourne’s blistering slapshot gave the Gwinnett Gladiators a 2-1 overtime victory Sunday in Game 1 of the ECHL American Conference semifinals.
Bourne’s winner came nearly 18 minutes into overtime, and clanged in off the post near Westlund’s stick side.
“Westy made so many saves it was unbelievable,” winger Dusty Jamieson said. “He kept us in there. It helps our confidence so much having him back there. But we’ve got to put the puck in the net, and help our defense and goalie.”
Charlotte had its chances with 34 shots, but couldn’t solve goalie Adam Berkhoel.
Game 2 in the best-of-5 series will be 7:05 p.m. Monday in Duluth. The series will return to Charlotte for Game 3 Wednesday, and if necessary, Game 4 on Thursday.
Westlund broke Jason LaBarbera’s mark of 47 saves against Dayton in 2001. He tied Nick Vitucci’s team mark for saves in a period with 24 in the third.
He was so sharp, a water bottle was dislodged from atop the net into the crease as play swirled in the third period, and Westlund knocked it aside.
“Alex was tremendous. He did a real good job coming out and challenging,” coach Derek Wilkinson said. “We did a pretty good job protecting the rebounds, but I thought he played fantastic.”
Winger Eddie Pershin scored Charlotte’s goal midway through the second period. Pershin, the puck and two defenders arrived simultaneously, and bowled over Berkhoel. The puck trickled in a split second before the pile dislodged the net.
Pershin adamantly pointed to the red flashing light nearby, which signifies a goal (but isn’t official). Referee David Banfield, after meeting with both linesmen, ruled it a goal, tying the game.
“We have to keep driving to the net,” said Pershin, who didn’t return after leaving later in the period with an arm injury. “Their goalie is not that great. He was kicking out big rebounds. We have to have guys in front of the net ready for them.”
Both teams had solid scoring chances in the third. Charlotte’s choicest was Bogdan Rudenko’s 20-foot slapper, which sailed wide. Berkhoel, a rookie, stopped two odd-man rushes, but Westlund faced more pressure and shots (24-8).
Gwinnett had 18 goals in four games in its opening playoff series. Charlotte’s strategy was to finish checks, which worked.
“We started tentatively, but once we started getting more physical in the second period it seemed to slow them down a bit,” Wilkinson said. “In overtime I think we ran out of gas, but we had chances, especially in the third.”