Playing like a team desperate to avoid a 3-1 series deficit, the Binghamton Senators struck for a pair of first-period goals and rode that momentum to a 3-0 win over the Houston Aeros on Friday night at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
The result evened up to Calder Cup Finals at 2-2, with a pivotal Game 5 is set for Saturday night in Binghamton (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). The series is also now guaranteed to return to Houston for Game 6 on Tuesday night.
Cody Bass and American Hockey League MVP Corey Locke netted first-period goals for the B-Sens, who held an 18-8 shots advantage in the opening 20 minutes after totaling 29 shots during their 2-1 loss in Game 3 of the series on Wednesday. It was the most dominant performance to date by any team in the series.
"The Binghamton Senators showed up tonight, for sure" said B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst. "We absolutely needed this game, and we needed to do it the way we did it. We didn't squeak by. We got what we deserved, but we did it in a big way. Games 1 through 3, we all knew we hadn't played up to our potential, but my challenge was just to make sure that we kept pushing forward because it was there.
"It had to be there. It's been there all year long. At some point, we had to put that nine-day layoff (after the Eastern Conference final) behind us because this is the Calder Cup Finals, and we were going to get it done or we were going to be done."
Bass snapped a six-game point drought with his second goal of the post-season and first since scoring in Game 5 of Binghamton’s opening-round series against Manchester on April 20.
Locke, who added an assist on the night, has now produced 13 points (2-11-13) in 14 games since returning to the B-Sens lineup from injury after missing the entire first round.
Binghamton defenceman Derek Smith provided additional insurance 2:19 into the third period with his first career playoff goal. Smith, who registered 54 points (10-44-54) in 71 regular-season contests for the Senators, has been limited to just four playoff appearances so far due to injury.
Rookie goaltender Robin Lehner
only had to make 21 saves to pick up his league-leading third shutout of the playoffs, and the 19-year-old improved to 12-4 (2.12 goals-against average, .938 save percentage) in 17 appearances this spring.
"We played really well tonight," said Lehner. "That's the first time (in the series) I've seen the team like this — double driving, shooting a lot and going to the net. I didn't feel I had that big (a) part of the shutout today. My defencemen blocked so many shots and kept things to the outside. I didn't have to worry much, but I got control of the hard things and we went from there."
Binghamton is now an impressive 6-1 following a loss this post-season and moved back to .500 on home ice at 5-5.
The Aeros suffered their first shutout of the playoffs and were blanked for the first time since a 3-0 loss at the Texas Stars on March 22.
After battlling through four games with a split, the two teams are down to a mini-series to determine whether its the B-Sens winning the first-ever Calder Cup or the Aeros returning to the winner's circle for the first time since 2003. Binghamton wants to hold serve for one more night at Broome County Arena before the series heads south to Texas.
"We don’t want to get on that plane heading to Houston (for Game 6) down 3-2,” said Kleinendorst. “That would be a tough task.”