Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Aeros Win Another Thriller, Take 3-2 Series Lead


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.)

14 comments:

sam said...

I was so frustrated after trailing 2-0 nothing as this team deserved a far better fate considering the game they were playing. They battled hard though and got what they worked for.

I thought in respect to shots it was more amazing that O'Sullivan and Rau got almost half of all the aero's shots tonight, at 21. I believe O'Sullivan hit a team record there tonight with 12 shots.
Beautiful finish by Earl and Wellman.

I agree with Yeo on the penalty trouble. I thought they were showing a little frustration there for a bit. They were showing such composure until that point.

Here's to hoping for a good finish to this series Sunday.
Great report! Thanks!

Forecheck said...

“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.”

You weren’t they only one, John. That’s exactly what I was thinking and sayng.

“the officiating in this game, hell, this whole series, was horrendous. “ Ditto that.

“The Aeros will fly to Chicago on Saturday morning, then bus to Milwaukee.” You know, Milwaukee has an airport, just like many major American cities do. Perhaps someone needs to explain this to the people who do the travel arrangements for the league/team.


Wow, even after having a good night’s sleep I’m still mentally drained by this onr – though many of you no doubt think mental drain is a permanent condition for me.

B2Bomber said...

Last night's game was very emotional for sure. The boys worked their asses off and were finally rewarded. I'm proud of the team.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people thought exactly what you thought, John....that last night's game was lost. What an incredible turnaround; what an incredible win! As for Milwaukee's coach...gee whiz, with the horrible officiating in this series, I'm amazed that he feels they're the only ones who have gotten a rotten call, potentially game-winning/losing call. What does that say to his team..."We were out shot and out worked, but let's blame the outcome on the ref." Thank you, Mike Yeo, for being a class act. And kudos to the whole team for not letting the Ads engage you in those fights they were trying to pick.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people thought exactly what you thought, John....that last night's game was lost. What an incredible turnaround; what an incredible win! As for Milwaukee's coach...gee whiz, with the horrible officiating in this series, I'm amazed that he feels they're the only ones who have gotten a rotten call, potentially game-winning/losing call. What does that say to his team..."We were out shot and out worked, but let's blame the outcome on the ref." Thank you, Mike Yeo, for being a class act. And kudos to the whole team for not letting the Ads engage you in those fights they were trying to pick.

John Royal said...

@FC re airport/flights...

Yes, Milwaukee does have an airport. What it doesn't have are non-stop flights out of Houston on an airplane big enough to carry an entire hockey team, staff, and gear.

Unsportsmanlike said...

Agreed, Anonymous. Lambert's attitude is great news from where I'm sitting. The officiating was cruel to both sides at points, but if he's going to set the example for the Admirals to blame the refs for the loss of the game (and, I've heard, the loss of the series, more good news for us) rather than the Aero's 53 shots on goal and whatever Admirals flaw he thinks allowed that to happen, well, it's going to happen again.

After that outburst, even if Lambert comes to his senses today, even if he presents a useful critique of the game and lets the Admirals know what they need to fix, it may not be enough. It's not going to have been his first reaction. His first reaction was that the loss was unfair, that the refs gave the Aeros the game despite anything the Admirals could have done. That message, demonstrated so emphatically, could eat away at the impact of anything Lambert says after calmer deliberation.

Further, what does it tell his team if he claims the refs gave away the series with that game? Let's hope that the Admirals take that message as given: they played just fine, the Aeros didn't play hard enough or well enough to deserve that win, the refs gave away the game, and there's nothing left for Milwaukee to do now except bow out at home.

Anonymous said...

What are your (anyone's) thoughts on the impact of the Ads getting reinforcements if the Preds lose tonight? I hope they win, but not so they won't send guys down, but because I like Joel Ward, the former Aero.

CenterIce said...

That game definitely rates up there with Khodobin's birthday for one of the games that I am glad I attended. Some things are best seen in person.

Anonymous -
Here is the clear day roster for Milwaukee (from theAHL.com). Joel Ward is not on it, so these are the only Admirals we'll see on the ice barring suspensions or injuries.

I'm not that familiar with Nashville, but I think Teemu Laakso is the only NHLer that will be coming back down.

Mark Dekanich (G)
Jeremy Smith (G)
Mike Bartlett
Steve Begin
Jonathon Blum
Gabriel Bourque
Ryan Flynn
Scott Ford
Blake Geoffrion
Matt Halischuk
Aaron Johnson
Roman Josi
Linus Klasen
Teemu Laakso
Grant Lewis
Chris Mueller
Brett Palin
Mark Santorelli
Ryan Thang
Andreas Thuresson
Mark Van Guilder
Kelsey Wilson

Anonymous said...

I'm not that familiar with Nashville, but I think Teemu Laakso is the only NHLer that will be coming back down.

Thank you, Centerice. I'm not familiar with most of them either, but I have to assume if he's "up" he's pretty good. Kudos for Joel Ward who just made his 6th goal of the playoffs!!

Ms. Conduct said...

Blum and Geoffrion are also up, I believe. Chris told me they're getting 5 guys back though, so either way, if you like the Aeros, you better be rooting for Nashville to hang in there. Amazing game tonight, particularly by former Aero Joel Ward.

Forecheck said...

Two goals by Wardo, Nashville wins, so no help for the Ads Sunday.

Now Nashville needs to win Monday too in order to keep the Ads from getting anyone for game 7.

I just can't believe I'm rooting for Nashville, the team that @$#%#$ Tootoo plays for!

Chris Jerina said...

In my estimation, they would get the following back:

Laakso, who's played in the AHL playoffs Round 1

Blum
Geoffrion
Halischuk

Off the top of my head, I cant picture the 5th guy.

B2Bomber said...

It was great seeing Joel Ward have such a wonderful game. I was rooting for them (Nashville) anyway because of Wardo being on the team. I wonder if he's still known by "landlord" in Nashville?

Hopefully I'll get to go to the MLP this afternoon for the game.