CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Checkers couldn’t have asked for a better start.
The Checkers topped the Chicago Wolves 4-0 Thursday in the first game of their best-of-five Central Division playoff series, getting a 20-save shutout from goalie Tom McCollum and a pair of goals and an assist from center Lucas Wallmark.
Game 2 of the series will be played Friday at Bojangles Coliseum.
Brendan Woods and Andrew Miller also scored for the Checkers, who went 2-5-1-0 against Chicago in the regular season. It was the kind of positionally sound, hard-working game that Checkers coach Ulf Samuelsson wanted in the Checkers’ first playoff game sine 2013.
“It was solid all-around,” Samuelsson said. “Our structure was very solid throughout the whole game. The goalie made some big saves at the right time and usually that team wins, so we’re lucky to have him.”
McCollum, a former first-round pick by the Detroit Red Wings, made his debut for the Checkers on March 10 after being assigned by Calgary and immediately made a career-high 49 saves. He earned his first shutout with the Checkers on March 21 and was 12-2-4 down the stretch of the season, starting 19 of 20 games.
“He’s awesome. We wouldn’t be here without him,” defenseman Haydn Fleury said.
Wallmark had been sidelined recent with an upper-body injury, as had forward Aleksi Saarela, but both played the opener. Wallmark, who led the Checkers with 24 goals this season, scored in the second period for a 2-0 lead. He assisted on Miller’s goal in the third period after Miller made a nice setup pass to Wallmark in the second.
Wallmark’s line also did a good job much of the game in shutting down the Wolves’ Kenny Agostino, who led the AHL with 83 points (24 goals, 59 assists) this season and was named MVP. Agostino had one shot in a minus-2 game while Wallmark was plus-3.
“We played our system, played our way,” Fleury said. “We didn’t give their top guys a lot of room.”