|Aeros 3, Admirals 0
| Official Box Score MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – Josh Harding made 40 saves for his third shutout of Milwaukee in five career games – Houston’s first shutout at Bradley Center in more than four seasons and just the second in 36 games there – and Patrick O’Sullivan scored two third-period goals to establish a new team record with his 33rd goal as a rookie, as the Aeros knocked off the Admirals 3-0 at Bradley Center to extend their West Division lead to four points. Kirby Law chipped in three assists in his 600th professional game while moving ahead of teammate Erik Westrum (one assist) for the AHL’s scoring lead with 81 points. Rookie Roman Voloshenko added a power play goal for Houston.
The Aeros (40-14-1-2) have reached 40 wins in just 57 games – the fastest start in team history by three games – and have won five straight to equal their 2004-05 total (40-28-6-6), with 23 games left. Houston has one game in hand on Milwaukee, which plays host to the Aeros again Sunday at 2 p.m.
All-Star Pekka Rinne made 23 stops for Milwaukee, which fell to 14-4-3-1 in its last 22 and 3-1-1-1 in its last six. The Admirals had won the last five home games in the series by a whopping 18-2 margin as Houston won for just the second time in its last 11 trips (2-7-2-0) to Bradley Center. The Aeros have won two straight against Milwaukee overall, the first time that’s happened in one season since February 11-March 1, 2003.
Harding, who has faced 35 or more shots in each of his last seven complete games overall, improved to 3-2-0 with a 1.00 gaa against the Admirals, with each victory coming via the shutout. Houston has scored just one goal in those two losses – that goal coming in an overtime loss. Harding has stopped 169-of-174 shots (97.1 percent) versus Milwaukee, while handing Houston its first shutout at Bradley Center since Jamie McLennan did it January 30, 2002. Harding the first Aeros goalie to shut out the same team twice in one season since Johan Holmqvist blanked San Antonio twice in 2003-04. Harding improved to 25-7-0 with a 2.55 gaa – ninth best in the AHL – with his second shutout of the season and sixth of his career.
Milwaukee outshot Houston 17-6 in the first period, but Harding was outstanding. The Admirals got 1:40 of 5-on-3 team but couldn’t find the net.
Heavyweights Bill Kinkel and Zack Stortini battled to a draw 2:19 into the second.
Houston got back-to-back power plays, including 14 seconds of a 5-on-3 midway through the second period, and connected on the second advantage. Seconds after Westrum deked Rinne far out of the cage but was denied by a pair of defensemen, Voloshenko scored his 26th of the season – team-best 15th on the power play, at 9:45. Westrum one-timed a feed from Law from the top of the right circle, and Voloshenko – at the left post – chipped the puck over a fallen Rinne for the game’s first goal. It marked Voloshenko’s second goal in three games after going a season-high eight contests without scoring.
Harding stopped Scottie Upshall on a shorthanded breakaway with five minutes left in the second.
The Aeros’ goalie then made one his nicest saves of the season, ranging right-to-left to keep Kris Beech out of the net on a 3-on-1 from Aeros nemesis Simon Gamache.
Houston allowed 30 shots through two periods, but just 10 in the third to help secure the victory, while getting a pair of goals from O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan finished off a 2-on-1 with Law with 7:59 left after Upshall fell down at the blueline. Law made the left-to-right feed to O’Sullivan, who went top shelf for his 32nd goal – tying Cory Larose’s Aeros’ rookie record.
After Houston killed off a Milwaukee power play late in regulation, O’Sullivan ended another odd-man rush with Law for his new team rookie record 33rd goal, also moving into a tie with Larose’s rookie record with his 64th point. The goal came with 3:31 remaining and capped off the rookie’s team-best eighth multiple-goal game of the season.
Stortini challenged Harding with less than a minute left, after Milwaukee failed to score on its second power play of the final five minutes.
Houston finished 1-for-6 on the power play, while Milwaukee went 0-for-5. The Admirals are 2-for-33 (6.1 percent) with the man advantage versus the Aeros this season. In the last 13 games against Houston dating back to last season, the Admirals are 3-for-64 (4.7 percent) with the man advantage.
Notes: Not dressing for the Aeros were Colin Peters, Petr Taticek, Joey Tetarenko and Andrei Nazarov. Law (33-48=81) leads Westrum (27-53=80) by one point and is six clear of Jiri Hudler for the AHL points lead. Houston has won four straight on the road, tying a season-high, and just one behind the second-longest run in team history. Houston is 17-10-0-0 on the road, tying last season’s mark (17-15-5-3). The Aeros’ franchise record for road victories is 23, set twice, most recently in 1997-98 (23-13-5) in an 82-game season. The Aeros’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot dropped to 21 points, a combination of points gained by Houston and points lost by Omaha, which won 3-2 in a shootout in Toronto tonight. O’Sullivan leads all AHL rookies with 64 points (33-31=64), a total that has him tied for fifth in the AHL. He’s also tied for third in goals with Law. and is riding a six-game point streak (5-5=10), tying his season-high. Larose also holds Aeros rookie record in assists (32), set in 2001-02. Voloshenko’s 15 power play goals are five off Jeff Christian’s team record. Houston has trailed after one period just once in its last 17 games. Houston is 10-1-1-0 when allowing 40 or more shots. Four of Houston’s last five victories in the Milwaukee series have come via the shutout. This series marks the 14th time this season that the Aeros have played a team in two consecutive games. Houston is 11-1-1-1 in the first meeting, and 10-3-0-0 in the second game entering Sunday. The Aeros have swept seven of the previous 13 back-to-backs against one team. The Aeros play the same team in back-to-back games four more times this season, with the next set coming March 7 and 9 against Chicago at Toyota Center. A crowd of 15,758 saw the game thanks to a pre-game concert by country group Sugarland, which is from Atlanta but named after Sugar Land, the Houston suburb home to the Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center, the Aeros’ official training facility. The crowd would have been the largest in the AHL this season if not for the 16,607 that saw Chicago whip Cleveland 8-0 at Allstate Arena tonight. Harding is the first Aeros’ goalie with 25 wins since McLennan in 2001-02. No other Houston netminder has won 25 games since Frederic Chabot went 36-19-7 in 1999-2000.