This is what it looks like in the scrum after a huge win.
When the Milwaukee Admirals took the 2-0 lead on a short-handed goal with just five seconds left in the second period, I turned to Heather and Andrew and made the following statement: it's all over. The Aeros are going to lose tonight. Then they're going to lose Sunday.
While a bit dramatic, one couldn't be blamed for thinking this, seeing as how the Aeros were losing 2-0 in a game they were absolutely dominating. They had out-shot Milwaukee 38-16. They were playing physical hockey, and they were forcing the action in the Milwaukee's zone. There's just no way they should have been trailing, except that Matt Hackett had a brain fart on the first goal and there was a huge defensive breakdown on the shortie.
But Milwaukee goalie Jeremy Smith was just light's out dominating this game, stopping anything and everything the Aeros were throwing his way. There was just no way, NO WAY, the Aeros were going to make a comeback and win this game.
NO FRIGGING WAY!
We know now how the game turned out. Robbie Earl scored on a 5x3 power play with 4:22 remaining in the game. Then Jon DiSalvatore hit Chad Rau with a beautiful pass and Rau buried the puck with 1:22 left to tie the game. Then Robbie Earl again, off a play by Casey Wellman, netted the game-winner at the 8:45 mark of the overtime.
And just like that, the Aeros got the 3-2 OT win for the second night in a row to grab the 3-2 series lead over the Admirals.
What more can be said after that? Well...
1. I think Jeremy Smith could kill his entire team and get off with justifiable homicide. He faced 53 shots in this game as the Admirals defense struggled to keep the Aeros out of the offensive zone. The Aeros weren't successful for most of the night, but the reason they weren't successful was that Smith was getting to everything.
That said, the Aeros knew they could get to him. They knew if they kept attacking he would break because he's only human. Here was the Aeros game plan as the game got late.
"He was great, again," Mike Yeo said. "He’s played – the one thing you keep saying is we can grind him down, too. If he’s going to make 50-something saves then we’re going to get to the net, and we’re going to get to the net. And we’re going to keep throwing pucks there, and eventually he’s going to get tired, too.
"He played back-to-back, and he played two hard games in a row. So hopefully we’re going to get to him as well."
And eventually, the Aeros did get to him. It took nearly the entire game, but they got to him.
2. Fifteen of the 53 shots Smith faced came off of the sticks of Robbie Earl and Chad Rau. Earl, specifically, has been attacking Smith the entire series, but he hadn't been having much success. Until tonight, when the team needed him the most.
3. Of the game-winner, Earl gave the credit for the play's success to Casey Wellman who won a face-off and started the action. Earl claims to have just been in the right place at the right time.
"Off the face-off, Wellman had it," Earl said. "I’m not sure what happened, but I know he cycled it back down to me. And I was able to get the bead on the D and was able to cut back, and then I saw a bunch of legs and I decided to pick one out, and it went in."
4. Earl's goal comes off of the rype of play that Yeo wants to see. Attacking the net. Again, and again, and again, forcing Smith to make plays. And he thought they were better at it tonight than they were in game four.
"That’s where you give the guys a lot of credit," Yeo said. "I thought last game we started to try to get a little too precise with our shots. Tonight we were just focusing on getting them to the net and creating those battles in front of the net. Those are hard plays for the goalie, and physically draining when you’re scrambling around and there’s traffic in front and guys are poking at pucks. I thought we did a nice job with that."
5. The Aeros had doubts when they went to the locker room for the second intermission. They had been following the game plan, putting the puck on net and trying to create havoc, and they were losing. But Chad Rau said they talked about this and knew what they had to do.
"Just to stick with it," he said. "We knew for the most part, besides a couple of plays, a couple of turnovers, that we were playing a good game. That’s the kind of feeling we all felt. So we knew we just had to stick with what we were doing and come out of strong."
6. And Mike Yeo noticed this, saying that a mindset that Jeremy Smith was just too perfect began to get to the team in the second period, leading to the two goals.
"That is exactly what happened," he said. "One way we can get better is, once that happened, we started to force things a little bit and we put ourselves in some tough positions. You start to force a play into the middle. And now we’re all kind of caught on the offensive side of the puck, and we’re back-checking. There was some frustration in our game where we started to take some penalties. It’s a good lesson for us. One way, certainly, we can improve. And then when they scored that second goal, we were stretching a shift and we were forcing a play. You want to do the right thing. You just have to make sure you keep your focus and go and do it the right way."
7. As you read below, Admirals coach Lane Lambert attempted to have a heated discussion with the officials in their locker room after the game. And in some ways, that was understandable as the officiating in this game, hell, this whole series, was horrendous.
For instance, I'm still trying to figure out how, where two players drop their gloves, throw numerous punches to the face that land, don't get called for fighting but instead each get four minutes for roughing. And it appeared to me, numerous times, that both goalies were mauled and mugged by guys jumping all over them and jabbing them with sticks while they were covering the puck. So while I'm sure Lambert will be getting a hefty fine from the league office, I hope that somebody with the league will do something about Ghislain Hebert and Mark Lemelin.
For what it's worth, I think Lambert might have been right regarding the interference penalty on Grant Lewis as I felt it was a fantastic acting job on the part of Casey Wellman. Still, that shouldn't have caused the Admirals squad to melt down, get called for a delay of game penalty seconds later, and have to kill a 5x3 power play.
Also, for what it's worth, I've been going down that corridor for four years, and this is the first time any coach, either the Aeros or the opposing coach, has attempted to get to the refs after a game.
8. Once Earl made that first goal, you could feel the momentum shift. Still, I was really worried and I was mentally cursing Mike Yeo as Matt Hackett stayed in the net and stayed in the net and stayed in the net as the clocked ticked down. I was down in that corner, and I saw him keep looking at the bench, waiting for the sign to rush off so the Aeros could get that extra skater out there. The irony being, of course, that they didn't need the extra skater as Hackett wasn't even halfway to the bench when Jon DiSalvatore hit Chad Rau with that perfect pass which Rau then buried in the net to tie the game.
9. The Aeros were lucky tonight. As much as they dominated the action, they needed luck to swing their way, and swing it did when they got that 5x3 power play. And when they got that chance, they capitalized.
"We needed that," Earl told us. "It’s one of those moments where you’re like, okay this is do-or-die, and we were able to capitalize. That second goal, it was an unbelievable play, and a timely goal. It was a valiant effort by everybody, and now we’re up 3-2."
10. Yes, the Aeros are now up 3-2 and they're heading back to Milwaukee. You've got to wonder if all of the action he's been facing is going to get to Smith. But the Aeros can't worry about that. They've just got to concentrate on their game.
"They’re a strong home team," Rau said. "We know that. We’re going to have our work cut out for us when we get back to Milwaukee. We’re going to have to come with an even stronger game."
11. Games six and seven will be in Milwaukee. The Aeros will fly to Chicago on Saturday morning, then bus to Milwaukee. They've got the momentum on their side. But while it looks like the Admirals might be going into meltdown mode, that can't be counted on.
I hate to keep going back to this, but I have to go back to what Jed Ortmeyer said after the last regular season game. The key to winning a series is what happens on those days between games. You can't get too high; you can't get too low. You can enjoy it, but you've also got to put it behind you and focus on what's ahead. The Aeros can't worry about Jeremy Smith or how Milwaukee responds in an elimination game. The Aeros have to concentrate on their game, on their process. They've got to control those things they can control, and they've got to work hard.
It's worked so far. Let's see if it keeps working.
(And just a reminder, T3I will be in the building for game six, and for game seven, if needed. I'll be there for both, and Andrew hopes to be there for game seven.)