For the longest time, nobody blinked.
Then Josiah Didier broke through, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins didn’t have much time left to think.
Didier’s goal in the waning minutes Saturday started a three-goal barrage that helped Charlotte overcome Joseph Cramarossa’s second-fastest goal in Penguins playoff history and carried the Checkers to a 4-1 victory over the Penguins in a Calder Cup first-round game at Charlotte’s Bojangles’ Coliseum.
Haydn Fleury scored the first and last goals while earning the game’s first star for Charlotte, which finished up with two empty-netters 14 seconds apart in the final 1:22 to seal the victory that gave the Checkers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
But the biggest shot came off the stick of Didier, who broke a stretch of more than 40 minutes without a goal from either team by putting the Checkers ahead 2-1 with a shot that beat Tristan Jarry with 5:42 to play.
Charlotte goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was spectacular, stopping 27 of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 28 shots while shutting down the Penguins for the game’s final 59 minutes.
His performance came after the Penguins opened the night with a bang.
Andrey Pedan’s initial point shot was turned away by Nedeljkovic, but the goaltender couldn’t locate the rebound before Cramarossa slammed it into the back of the net 22 into the game.
That was all the Penguins got against Nedeljkovic, who frustrated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton through the final 59:38.
Jarry nearly matched him, turning away 24 of Charlotte’s 26 shots against him.
De3fenseman Fleury tied the game 13:47 into the opening period with a weird shot, but Jarry didn’t allow another goal until Didier’s late, go-ahead goal.
Fleury gathered a puck behind the goal line and tried to throw it into the slot, but it ricocheted off of the bend at the back of Jarry’s knee and in, tying the game.
Warren Foegele had a chance to give the Checkers their first lead of the game when he took off on a shorthanded breakaway midway through the second period, but Jarry came up with a huge denial.
The Checkers, though, eventually gained the lead when Didier navigated a seeing-eye shot shot through a line of players and into the Penguins’ net with only 5:42 to play.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has handed a power play with 3:28 remaining in regulation, but couldn’t generate any shots against Nedeljkovic.
Right as that man advantage expired, the Penguins pulled Jarry for an extra attacker, but the Checkers scored on the empty net shortly thereafter. Empty net goals by Clark Bishop and Fleury 14 apart with Jarry out of the net sealed Charlotte’s victory.
The series shifts to Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday for Game 3.
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