Monday Caterwaul: Florida Panthers Open Forum

Checkers climb into first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division

The Florida Panthers will get another night off after Saturday’s satisfying 4-1 road win over the Nashville Predators.

Florida’s lead in the race for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference was cut to six points on Sunday when the Carolina Hurricanes posted a 5-2 win over the Cats next opponent, the Anaheim Ducks. The Panthers now have a game in hand on the Jerks. Florida remains eight points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

In the AHL’s Atlantic Division, the Charlotte Checkers amassed five points in its final homestand of the season against the Hartford Wolf Pack over the weekend to slip into first place.

On Friday, the Checkers opened the three-game set with a 4-1 victory backstopped by recently returned goaltender Christopher Gibson, who stopped 22 of 23 shots and drew an assist Connor Carrick’s empty-netter.  Defenseman Chase Priskie scored the game’s first goal and added a helper. Aleksi Heponiemi and Serron Noel also contributed assists.

Cole Schwindt notched his 19th goal to open the scoring in Saturday’s 3-2 win. Noel, Logan Hutsko, Heponiemi and Priskie added assists. Priskie drew the only helper on Alexander True’s shorthanded goal early in the third period, which turned out to be the game-winner.

The Wolf Pack took the final game on Sunday when Maxim Letunov scored 21 seconds into overtime. Gibson started and took the loss, finishing with 22 saves on 26 shots. Zac Dalpe scored his team-leading 28th goal. Heponiemi and Hutsko each collected an assist.

Charlotte, which has already clinched a playoff spot, will wrap its schedule with a five-game road trip. The Checkers currently lead the Springfield Thunderbirds by one point, 83-82, and in points percentage .619 to .612. They will play the Thunderbirds twice, on Friday and Saturday. Those two games will go a long way in deciding who will win the division. Charlotte will likely need to win on points percentage as they chose to play 72 games this season while Springfield opted to play 76.

The only game on the NHL schedule tonight is the Winnipeg Jets at the Montreal Canadiens. NHL Network has the broadcast starting at 7 p.m.