It was a tale of two games. The game played in the first and the third period. The game played in the second period. The Houston Aeros were clearly the best team on the ice in the first period. They were clearly the worst team on the ice in the second period. The question would come down to the third period.
Which Houston Aeros team would show up. The one that attacked Manny Legace and got off 14 shots on goal in the first period. Or the one that played it safe and got off zero shots in the second period. The one that roared off to a 2-0 lead. Or the one lucky to limp off of the ice tied 2-2.
“We just knew going into the third that it was going to be the most important period of the year,” defenseman Max Noreau said after the game. “So the guys were pretty pumped up…”
“We just knew we were tied 2-2 and had the chance to be in the game,” said forward Corey Locke. “We wanted to come out in the third like we did in the first and not like we did in the second.”
“The first period tonight looked exactly like the first and second periods on Saturday night,” coach Kevin Constantine said We played two great periods Saturday, and we played a great first period tonight….So it didn’t surprise me at all that they came back in the second and we sat back and let them come back. It didn’t surprise me that this series went into the final period with the two teams tied because that’s the way the whole series has gone.”
The Aeros of the first period came out to play in the third. They only got eight shots in the third. But they made those eight shots count, getting three goals to get the 5-2 upset Game Seven victory over the Peoria Admirals last night.
The game got off to a quick start for the Aeros as Krys Kolanos shoved the puck past Peoria’s Manny Legace at 1:39 of the first period for the 1-0 lead. Max Noreau’s phantom goal came at about the 6:00 mark, but the score was still 1-0, and Anton Khudobin had been lucky to not give up any goals to the Rivermen.
But at 9:30 of the first, Tomas Mojzis went to the penalty box to put Peoria on the power play. And at 11:01 Ronnie Earl stepped in front of a Peoria pass, got the puck and put on a burst of speed not often seen from a player wearing the Aeros green. Marco Rosa took off after Earl which was a good thing because while Earl got off a great shot, Manny Legace stopped it. The puck rebounded out to Rosa who was in just the right spot to push it past Legace and give the Aeros the 2-0 lead off of a short-handed goal.
Another Aeros team showed up for the second period. A team that didn’t quite believe in pushing the puck up the ice or in hitting the opponent. A team that got off zero shots. ZERO shots. It was a team that didn’t protect Anton Khudobin, and as the period ended, the Aeros were lucky to be tied 2-2.
“We had a great start. A great first period,” Noreau said. “I think maybe that gave us too much confidence. We let up in the second and gave them much skating room. And they got way more chances than we did. So we wanted to come out hard again in the third.”
And Krys Kolanos was blunt in his assessment of the team’s second period play. “We put too many pucks in the middle and let them gain momentum with their transition game,” he said. “I think that was a mistake on our part. And we took a couple of unnecessary penalties. So it was a discipline issue as well.”
Then came the third period. A third period that, for most of its first half, was pretty evenly played. But Matt Beaudoin, one of the few players to have a good second period (along with Krys Kolanos and Clayton Stoner) got off a shot at Manny Legace. A shot that rebounded way out to the top where Max Noreau was stationed. A rebound that found Noreau in just the right spot to fire off a shot that Legace didn’t stand a chance of stopping.
“The puck came bouncing out,” Noreau said. “I think Legace made a good save on the first shot and then their guys kind of went down when I faked the shot and I just walked around them. I saw traffic and I tried to put it high because he’s a smaller goalie and it’s been working for us. It’s the same place I went at last time [his Game Five overtime game-winner].”
The game stayed tight and the defense stepped up, helping Khudobin keep the Rivermen out of the net. Peoria several times tried to pull Legace so as to get the extra attacker, but each time, the Aeros were able to get the puck back in Peoria’s zone before Legace could clear the ice. But then, when Legace did get clear, the Aeros took advantage. First Corey Locke iced the game at 4-2 with his empty-netter at 19:37, and then with two seconds left in the game, Mitch Love got the empty-netter to make the final score 5-2 and to send the Aeros into a match-up with Milwaukee Admirals.
“It was a huge relief. Just kind of we did it,” Locke said of his empty-netter. “That they can’t come back from two goals in 25 seconds. I know that anything’s possible but we were pretty happy.”
The Aeros get to be pretty happy tonight. But it won’t last long as they’ve play again on Thursday night in Milwaukee.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
Max Noreau told Joe O'Donnell on Saturday night that he's never won a playoff series, and that he thought he might be getting a stigma attached to him because of that. So in a way it's fitting that Noreau hit the game-winning goals in two of the team's four wins.
"It’s unbelievable," Noreau said about his goal, and the win. "When that puck went in I was ecstatic. And I’ve never felt this before. This was huge for me and I’m just glad we’re going on to the next round."
And then there's the case of Mitch Love. Love, who's become quite a fan favorite in Houston was playing in his first playoff series. And he chose the last seconds of his last game of his first series to get his first ever playoff goal. But anyone who's talked to Love knows that he's not much for basking in glory. When I asked him about the goal, he immediately changed the talk to the great play of his teammates.
"It’s just a credit to the guys," he said. "We just stuck with it. After that tough second period where they were kind of all over us, it just kind of showed the character we have in this locker room and the experience to come out in that third period and get three goals."
I was sitting next to acting Wild GM and current Aeros GM Tom Lynn for the phantom Max Noreau goal. And Lynn couldn't believe that there was no goal. According to Kevin Constantine, the ref basically acknowledged that there was a goal, but that no one actually saw the puck go into the net and as such, they couldn't give the Aeros a goal.
"Tonight we scored a goal," Constantine said. "We scored a goal in the first period that went right through the netting. But the refs and the linesman couldn’t say they knew that a hundred percent. They said the guessing and the angles and the physics and everything else say yeah it was probably in. But because none of them saw it actually go through the netting, they couldn’t allow it."
Neither Tom Lynn nor Kevin Constantine are sure of the status of Jesse Schultz. He hurt his ankle at the end of Game Six, and he was a scratch for Game Seven. Constantine doesn't think they'll know much about his status for another day or so. But I saw Schultz after the game, and he said he was in pain and he wasn't confident about playing anytime soon.
I've got a lot more stuff. But I'm dead tired right now. You've got no idea how long a day it's been. So I'll try to get more of it up come Tuesday night or Wednesday as I'm looking at another long day on airplanes and in airports on Tuesday.
But instead of ending with a video, I'm going to end with something else. As any of you who read my ClownVision Chronicles blog are aware, I have this thing for Heidi Klum. Specifically, I like posting SI Swimsuit photos of Heidi Klum. So when I got on my Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit early on Monday morning, I took it as a rather good omen when I picked up the in-flight magazine to find this cover.
Sure, it's not Heidi Klum in a swimsuit, but it's still Heidi Klum. And as Heather, Fred, and Andrew will attest, I sent them this photo from Detroit and said that this was a good omen. So if I start posting photos of Heidi Klum over here, I'm now sure that you will understand why.