HOUSTON, Texas – Alexandre Giroux and Daniel Girardi each scored two goals and Al Montoya made 23 saves, as the Hartford Wolf Pack rallied from an early deficit for a 5-1 victory over the Houston Aeros at Toyota Center. Colby Genoway also scored for Hartford, which has won six in a row and is 13-1-0-1 in its last 15 games.
Josh Harding made 28 saves and Patrick O’Sullivan scored a power play goal for Houston (42-15-1-2), which had its seven-game winning streak and eight-game home unbeaten in regulation streak snapped. The Aeros’ lead over second-place Milwaukee was cut to two points after the Admirals beat Peoria 6-4 tonight. Houston has two games in hand on Milwaukee.
Houston’s magic number for clinching a playoff spot is 13 points, a combination of points earned by the Aeros and points lost by Iowa. The Stars lost 4-3 in a shootout tonight to Manitoba.
The Aeros are in San Antonio for a 4 p.m. faceoff Sunday, before returning home Tuesday and Thursday against Chicago. Gametime is 7:05 p.m. for both contests. Click here to buy tickets.
To no one’s surprise in a game featuring the third and fourth ranked offenses in the AHL, the first period was get-up-and-go.
Each team had two breakaways that didn’t find the net. Montoya stopped O’Sullivan, the leading rookie scorer in the AHL, after he broke from the box in alone on the goalie three minutes in. Six minutes later, O’Sullivan whiffed on his first chance, but got good wood on the puck, but Montoya captured it under his pads.
Hartford’s Nigel Dawes shot one just wide of the far post on a breakaway with six minutes left in the opening period, and Harding pushed aside Jarkko Immonen’s shorthanded breakaway with his glove with 2:31 remaining.
O’Sullivan avenged his earlier misses with a 4-on-3, power play goal with 1:17 left. Curtis Murphy, at the right point, got the puck to Clayton Stoner at the top of the right circle. Stoner fed O’Sullivan in the low right circle, and the rookie walked in on Montoya and scored his team-best 35th goal of the season.
Hartford began to take control in the second, riding four straight power plays to a 20-9 shot advantage and a pair of goals.
Scoring chances were aplenty again early in the second period. At the 4:30 mark, Montoya kicked out his left pad to make a skate save on Roman Voloshenko’s point blank attempt. Less than a minute later, Hartford got a 3-on-1, but a diving Murphy and a sprawled Harding helped turn aside Giroux.
On the ensuing faceoff, Houston skated quickly down the ice, and captain Kirby Law rang a shot off the post.
O’Sullivan pushed a 2-on-0 attempt from Peter Olvecky just wide with 6:30 left in the second.
The flukiest goal of the season put Hartford on top for the first time with 1:58 remaining in the middle period. Girardi went to dump the puck into the Aeros zone from center ice. The puck glanced off a seam in the left wing boards and into the net. Harding had begun to leave the crease to play the dump in.
Law hit his second post of the period with 35 ticks left.
Giroux made it 3-1 with his second goal of the night and team-best 29th of the season, 1:48 into the third period. He snuck in from the right point and drilled a hard shot under Harding.
Genoway’s 21st goal, at 5:33, pushed the advantage to three goals. Genoway, also in the right circle, got one five-hole on Harding.
Girardi finished off a 2-on-1 with Chad Wiseman with 10:33 left for a 5-1 lead.
Houston went 1-for-5 on the power play, while Hartford finished 0-for-7.
Veteran center Rem Murray left Houston this afternoon to fly to Edmonton, Alberta, to discuss a possible contract with the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers. Murray is expected to arrive in Edmonton tonight and undergo a full medical examination Sunday. The eight-year, 559-game NHL veteran was with the Aeros this season while coming back from cervical dystonia, a serious nerve disorder in his neck that can cause paralysis. The 33-year-old Murray, named an Aeros’ alternate captain December 15, broke into the NHL with Edmonton in the 1996-97 season.
“It’s a bit of a whirlwind,” Murray said from Bush Intercontinental Airport. “It’s exciting to possibly be back in the NHL, but at the same time, I enjoyed being here. All of a sudden, having to leave, it’s tough. But especially to play with the team I came in with, I’m really excited.”
Murray posted 35 points (11-24=35) in 54 games with the Aeros, anchoring the team’s second line since signing on October 15. He last played in the NHL on January 6, 2004, with Nashville, before coming down with symptoms of cervical dystonia. Murray has notched 216 points (94-122=216) in 559 NHL games with Edmonton, the New York Rangers and Nashville.
Not dressing for the Aeros were Colin Peters, Rem Murray, Petr Taticek and Andrei Nazarov.
Houston fell to 24-5-1-2 at home – still one win better than last season’s total (23-13-1-3) with nine games left.
The Aeros finished the season 0-3-1-0 against the Eastern Conference, going 0-2-0-0 against Hartford.
Murphy earned $100 for “Murphy’s Mission”, in which an anonymous local donor is pledging money per Murphy goal and assist to go towards “I Have a Dream”. Murphy’s mission has now raised $300 in two games. A Murphy hat trick at Toyota Center will net $10,000.
Harding had a six-game winning streak snapped. It tied his career-best.
Houston fell to 2-11-1-1 when scoring two or fewer goals, and 5-11-0-1 when yielding four or more.
O’Sullivan’s 35 goals are the sixth most by an Aero in any single season. He’s one behind current special assistant to hockey Cam Stewart for fifth. Law is right on O’Sullivan’s heels with 34.