BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - Led by veteran scorer Ryan Potulny, rookie sniper Bobby Butler and resurgent prospect Kaspars Daugavins, the Binghamton Senators were the most dangerous team in the American Hockey League through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Now, in the Calder Cup finals, they're in danger of falling in a deep hole.
Veteran winger Jon DiSalvatore had a goal and an assist and rookie goalie Matt Hackett made 28 saves as the Houston Aeros defeated the B-Sens 2-1 Wednesday night in Game 3 of the AHL’s finals.
Houston, the Minnesota Wild's farm team, leads the series, 2-1. Game 4 is Friday night in Binghamton.
The Senators averaged four goals per game in the first three rounds of the playoffs. They've scored a total of four goals in the first three games of the finals.
"To sit here and say we're going to be able to shut these guys down every day would be a foolish statement on my part," Houston coach Mike Yeo said. "But we've got our structured game that we stick to and we've got a defensive commitment and a defensive game plan that we stick to."
Trailing 2-0 after two periods, Binghamton, the Ottawa Senators farm team, put together a third-period rally that made the game interesting.
Less than three minutes into the period, they closed the gap to 2-1 on the power play when Ryan Keller tipped in an Andre Benoit fired from the blue line with a waist-high deflection.
Then Butler, who is second on Binghamton's playoff goal list with 12, rang a potentially game-tying shot from the slot off the crossbar with 3:12 left in the game.
In the final minute, a Corey Locke shot from the right half-wall hit the far post and Hackett dove back to smother Potulny’s rebound bid just before it crossed the goal line with 24.5 seconds left.
"In the third period, we showed we really wanted it," said rookie centre Mike Hoffman, who was elevated to the top line late in the game. "We've got to play like that for three periods if we want to win the cup."
Some fans among the sold-out crowd of 4,710 threw debris on the ice at the game’s conclusion, protesting referee Terry Koharski's no-goal call on the Locke play, but Kleinendorst didn't share their outrage.
"The referee right behind the net called it off right away," he said. "Must not have been."
Kleinendorst did, however, say he hoped his players would bring some of the determination they showed late in Game 3 into Game 4.
"We played in the third period the way we should have played the whole game," he said. "Why didn't we play that way? I don't have the answer to that. That's one of the things that frustrates a lot of coaches. This is the Calder Cup finals. You wouldn't really expect your group wouldn't show up and give you an honest 60. I feel like we can be better."
DiSalvatore was the driving force offensively for the Aeros, scoring in the first period and setting a goal up in the second.
On the second shift of the game, he collected a Jared Spurgeon shot from the right point that banked off the end boards and converted on his second crack at the rebound.
In the second period, DiSalvatore backhanded a puck into the crease that bounced around until defenceman Nate Prosser skated in from the right point and one-handed it into the net.
DiSalvatore, a 30-year-old right winger, has scored at least 20 goals in each of his eight seasons in the AHL.
"He is our leader. He's our captain. He's the conscience of our team," Yeo said. "He's a guy, every time he steps on the ice, he's showing his teammates he's here to win."