Official Box Score HOUSTON, Texas – Erik Westrum tallied two goals – including the third-period game-winner – to reclaim the AHL’s scoring lead from teammate Kirby Law, as the Houston Aeros defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs 3-2 at Toyota Center in a rematch of the 2003 Calder Cup Finals. Roman Voloshenko added a goal and an assist, Curtis Murphy supplied two helpers and Josh Harding made 29 saves for Houston (42-14-1-2), which padded its West Division lead to six points over idle Milwaukee, which has played one more game. The Aeros have won seven straight overall – one off their season-high – and are 7-0-0-1 in their last eight home games. Houston’s magic number for clinching a playoff spot is 14 points, a combination of points earned by the Aeros and points lost by Iowa.
The Aeros are at home again Saturday at 7:35 p.m. against Hartford. The first 3,000 fans will receive an Aeros trucker hat. The Aeros have also teamed with Wildcat Golf Club for a chance to win rounds of golf, as well as golf-related activities throughout the evening. Click here
to buy tickets.
Murphy earned $200 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”. A Murphy hat trick at Toyota Center will net $10,000.
Francis Lemieux and Pierre Dagenais each scored a goal and Jaroslav Halak finished with 35 saves in his third career AHL start for Hamilton, which had won five in a row overall and on the road. The Bulldogs handed the Aeros their worst loss of the season, 7-1, on December 10 at Copps Coliseum.
Houston’s Matt Foy hit the outside of the net with a rebound of an Erik Reitz miss early on.
The Bulldogs broke on top at 7:53 of the first, getting Lemieux’ 14th goal of the season. Harding stopped Jean-Phillipe Cote’s shot from the right point, but Lemieux swatted at the rebound on the doorstep and poked it under Harding.
Eighteen of the Aeros’ 42 victories have come after trailing. They are an impressive 15-8-0-0 when allowing the game’s first goal, including wins in each of the last five occurrences.
Aeros rookie Patrick O’Sullivan had a breakaway a minute later, but shot the puck wide. With 8:30 left, Bryan Lundbohm broke in 2-on-1 shorthanded with Josh Olson, but Halak stayed with the play and stoned Lundbohm.
Houston’s third-rated power play unit went to work for the first time late in the first period, and it got the Aeros even with 4:26 left. Westrum, in the right circle, fed Murphy at the center point. Voloshenko deflected Murphy’s shot through traffic under Halak for his 27th goal of the season.
Just 1:35 later, Voloshenko fed Westrum for the Aeros’ first lead of the night. Voloshenko, low in the left circle, slid a long pass across the ice to a waiting Westrum at the right doorstep, and Westrum popped the puck into the net to tie Law for the points lead.
In their last 11 victories, the Aeros have outscored their opponents 24-9 in the first period. In the last 24 games overall, Houston has a 37-18 goal margin in the opening 20 minutes, and overall on the season the Aeros are an AHL-best plus-30 (72-42). Houston has trailed after one period just twice in its last 19 games.
Lundbohm and Olson got another 2-on-1 shorthanded chance 7:30 into the second. Olson shot it wide, and Lundbohm’s wraparound attempt hit the outside of the net.
Seconds later, on the same Hamilton power play, Dagenais tallied his seventh goal of the season to tie things up at 2-2. James Sanford fed Dagenais at the top of the right circle, and the 142-game NHL veteran one-timed a shot low under a screened Harding.
Harding had to make a breakaway save with his team on the power play with 2:00 left in the second, when Reitz collided with linesman Frank Prestigiovanni at center ice.
Westrum’s goal, the only tally of the third period, put Houston on top and put him in sole possession of first place in the scoring race. Murphy unloaded a rocket from the right point, and it got knocked down in the circle. Westrum slipped the rebound over Halak for his 29th goal of the season.
Westrum (29-55=84) has led Law (34-49=83) for most of the season. Law was held off the scoresheet tonight.
The Bulldogs pulled Halak with 45 seconds left, but couldn’t get the equalizer. Foy hit the post in an empty-net attempt.
Houston finished 1-for-6 on the power play, while Hamilton went 1-for-5. Notes: Not dressing for the Aeros were Colin Peters, Petr Taticek, Joey Tetarenko and Andrei Nazarov. The Aeros are 18-5-1-2 in one-goal games, and an impressive 25-8-1-2 in games decided by two goals or less. Houston has seen 10 of its last 12 games be decided by one or two goals, going 7-2-0-1. Houston is a league-best 24-4-1-2 at home – one win better than last season’s total (23-13-1-3) with nine games left. The Aeros’ franchise record for most wins at home is 32 (32-6-3), set in 1998-99. O’Sullivan had a season-high seven-game point streak (6-6=12) snapped. Houston is 40-4-0-1 when scoring three or more goals, and 37-4-1-1 when allowing three or fewer. The Aeros are 22-5-0-0 against teams below the .500 mark, including seven straight wins.