It came down to the wire, but the Aeros squeaked into the playoffs with the 2-1 win over the Texas Stars tonight. With a little help from Milwaukee, who spanked Charlotte 6-1, and San Antonio, who bested OKC 1-0, the Aeros clinched the 8th spot in the West.
It was literally the last result of the regular season, but we knew midway through the game, as the other two games wrapped up, that the post-season was 100% in the Aeros hands.
Matt Hackett, who was marvelous tonight, told us after the game that they didn't tell the players during the game what was happening around the league. And he preferred it that way. Focus on the job at hand, worry about ourselves, get the 2 points.
He and Coach Torchetti both described it as a character win, when the easy thing would have been to phone it in and go home for the summer.
"Diligence pays off. The kid (goalie Jack Campbell) played a great first period and it was going to take something, and it took (Broda) there. I think (the first goal) settled us down. It's a big win for us," Torchetti said. "What we went through this year, not to make the playoffs, being so close... character. We probably could have fallen down and said, 'Hey, we can make it another time' but that just shows you everything right there."
He was especially complimentary of Hackett, who was rock solid carrying a big load this 3 in 3 weekend.
"I haven't seen goaltending like that since, probably (Roberto) Luongo in my first pro win against Boston. I think he stopped 40 shots. I was like, 'Wow, thanks buddy!'" Torchetti said. "I'm proud of him."
Oak City, the Aeros first round opponent, and Houston know each other well, though as Hackett pointed out, he personally has only played them twice this season, having been up with Minnesota for several games against them. They're a skilled team with excellent goaltending (Yann Danis was voted AHL Goaltender of the Year earlier this week).
"I'm looking forward to it. We're just happy to be here. We're the underdogs," Torchetti told us. And indeed, the mood around the team was a lot of relief.
This team had a lot of promise to start the season, but the black hole in Minnesota really took so much away, in big swaths, in little bits, in ways that the Aeros aren't getting back (namely Ortmeyer and Peters, who were so important to the leadership and compete level of this team, and the Wellman trade, which was a huge offensive dent).
But the team just kept plugging and believing and maybe got some luck in there, too. And here they are. Lots to be proud of in accomplishing that.
So, in 8th place, the Aeros will play OKC in Houston on Thursday and Friday (19th/20th). Then the series will move to OKC Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
Hopefully you hadn't already made plans. :) See you Thursday.