The Aeros needed the win over San Antonio Rampage tonight. They needed the win to get points and stay close to Milwaukee, but more importantly, they needed the win so that they could start to get some separation from themselves and the clubs below them. And they needed to start sensing the kill and putting opponents out of their playoff misery.
And with a convincing 5-1 win over the Rampage tonight, before a huge, electric crowd of 11,273, the Aeros did everything they needed to, and more. Mike Yeo, getting some players back healthy, did some line shuffling, and saw a huge payoff, and Carson McMillan scored two goals within 19 seconds to put the Aeros up 4-0 late in the second period and put the final nail in the Rampage coffin for the night.
So let’s get to it.
1. Important stuff first: Milwaukee lost 3-2 to Lake Erie, so the Aeros moved back to a point out of first place. Bigger than that, Rockford beat Peoria 4-3 and Oklahoma City beat Chicago 4-3. And with Texas not playing tonight, the Aeros are finally getting some of that mythical separation between themselves and the teams behind them in the playoff hunt. Separation that’s going to be important that last week when the Aeros are off for eight days while everybody else plays multiple games.
The Aeros are now five points up on Peoria and Oklahoma City. They’re six points up on Texas, seven points up on Chicago, and eight points up on a San Antonio team that is fading, and fading quickly.
2. The game tonight was scoreless after one period. But the Aeros controlled the action in a fight-filled period and set the stage for a second period where they lit up the Rampage for four goals.
3. The goals in the fourth period were all things of real beauty. Patrick O’Sullivan got the first goal, a sick little number made possible off of a Jon DiSalvatore play down in the corner. O’Sullivan got the puck in the slot and just did what he does. San Antonio’s Joe Fallon never stood a chance of stopping the shot.
The second goal saw Robbie Earl, from about the same spot as O’Sullivan’s, flipping the puck over the Fallon’s stick off of a pass from Cody Almond. And like O’Sullivan’s goal, it was just one of those goals that make you go “WOW,” even when you’re sitting in the press box and you’re not supposed to be cheering.
Then it was the Carson McMillan show as at 16:55 he took a shot from the left circle and lifted it over Fallon and right under the cross bar to put Houston up 3-0. And just as everybody was settling down, he struck again, getting a pass from Jed Ortmeyer as he crossed in front of the goal, where he tipped it past Fallon.
4. McMillan’s been a key guy for the Aeros this year. He’s been doing all of the gritty stuff that doesn’t really get the notice because it’s not glamorous, so nobody was happier for McMillan tonight than Yeo.
“I’m happy for him,” Yeo said. “The thing is, he doesn’t need to score to have a great game. He understands that. That’s one of the reasons why I think he’s really put himself on the map as far as being a prospect in this organization this year. He’s a guy that – he’s just a great role player. Whatever his job is he’s going to go out and do it that night. The reason I’m happy for him is, he’s been a guy who’s moved up to top lines and moved up in the lineup, and he’s scored some goals and he’s got some points, and the next thing you know he’s back on the fourth line. But whether he’s on the fourth line or the second line he’s equally as important to us. I was happy to see it. Every time he’s handled it with unbelievable attitude and I was happy to see him get rewarded.”
5. Yeo was happy about his team’s play for the entire game. Especially with the way they came out and stuck to the game plan and executed and dominated. We asked him about that second period after the game, and he said the second period happened because of the play in the first period.
“That’s the way you draw it up right there,” he said. “I thought the first period was good, too, actually. We had a game plan, and the guys were committed to it right from the start. We didn’t bury pucks in the first period, but we started to tilt the ice, and when you do that, you put yourself in a position to do what we did in the second period.”
6. Colton Gillies returned to action tonight, and his play was noticeable throughout, especially early in the game when the Aeros were on the penalty kill. But Yeo also thought Gillies did a great job throughout of the night of wearing down the San Antonio defensemen, and by making them look for him throughout the night every time they tried to make something happen throughout the game.
7. With the return of Gillies, and with Scott Campbell joining the team out of college, the Aeros did a bit of line reshuffling. Cody Almond rejoined the top line with Patrick O’Sullivan and Jon DiSalvagore, while Casey Wellman joined line two with Robbie Earl and Chad Rau. Carson McMillan moved up to line three with Jed Ortmeyer and Colton Gillies while the new guy played with Jarod Palmer and Jean-Michel Daoust.
Yeo thinks this gives the team really good balance on the main two scoring lines, and he likes the added threat that now comes from the third line.
8. The team also saw defenseman Jeff Penner take the ice for the first time tonight, and he looked good. Which is important seeing as how Marco Scandella broke a finger playing for the Wild today and Nate Prosser was recalled to join them.
9. The Aeros did try to get McMillan his hat trick tonight. The Aeros got a 4:00 power play to end the game, and McMillan was out there, in front of the goal, for most of it. He told us after the game that Ortmeyer made sure that Mike Yeo knew just what the stakes were, and that McMillan got out on the ice, and McMillan then told us that Jon DiSalvatore did everything within his power to set up the goal.
10. This was a really physical game that at times, especially late in the third period, threatened to escalate out of control as San Antonio seemed to be taking their frustrations out on the Aeros.
“I think frustration was a big part of it,” Yeo said. “I also think that the fact that we play them tomorrow and they want to put up a fight and say hey, we’re not going to roll over and die. I don’t mind that stuff. We have guys that can handle themselves. I love seeing another get frustrated and doing that stuff because it means we’re getting to them. And I’d love to see it happen again tomorrow.”
And Yeo expects more of this type of play from the Rampage tomorrow.
11. It might just be me, but it seemed to me that the Aeros were sensing it tonight. They were sensing that playoff spot, and they were sensing that the Rampage are about down for the count. There are still nine games left, but the Aeros are finally getting some separation between themselves and the teams below them, and they really seemed to be playing with confidence and a great sense of purpose of tonight.
But who knows what will happen tomorrow.
It's been a while since I've played a video, but there's this song that's been going through my head lately -- and is kind of stuck on my iPod repeat, that I think just gets the proper attitude of tonight's game. It's kind of sassy, with a 70s soul vibe and lots of sax and keyboard. So here are Fitz and the Temptations with "Money Grabber."
And I'll try to get some photos up later.