MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – Jordin Tootoo capped a frantic final five minutes with the game-winning goal with 13.9 seconds left, as the Milwaukee Admirals stunned the Houston Aeros 5-4 in Game 1 of the West Division Final at Bradley Center. The teams combined for four goals – three by Milwaukee – in the final 4:37 of regulation. Game 2 is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. Click here to buy tickets to Game 3 in Houston, Sunday at 6:05 p.m.
Darren Haydar scored twice, Rich Peverley and Greg Classen each supplied a goal and a helper and Pekka Rinne made 26 stops for Milwaukee, which defeated Iowa in seven games to reach the division final.
The Aeros, who swept Peoria in four games in the division semifinals, fell to 12-3 all-time in Game 1’s in best-of-seven series, and they are 1-1 when dropping Game 1.
Houston’s checking line of Joel Ward (two goals, one assist), Josh Olson (one goal, two assists) and former Admiral Bryan Lundbohm (three assists) combined for three goals and Patrick O’Sullivan appeared to force overtime with a power play goal with 1:48 left in regulation.
Josh Harding has his seven-game winning streak snapped, making 23 saves.
The line of Lundbohm (3-5=8), Ward (4-2=6) and Olson (2-3=5) has combined to put up 19 points (9-10=19) in five games. The trio has accounted for nine of Houston’s 22 post-season goals. Lundbohm is the leading scorer on the team.
Houston carried a 3-2 lead into the final five minutes.
But Classen’s first goal of the post-season tied the game, with 4:37 remaining in regulation. Greg Zanon, at the left point, fired a perfect pass to a cutting Classen at the far post. Classen got behind the defense and redirected the feed into the empty cage.
Haydar’s second of the game and sixth of the post-season put Milwaukee on top 1:23 later, with 3:14 left in regulation. He picked up a loose puck from Simon Gamache in the right circle and fired a high shot that beat Harding blocker side.
The Aeros got their sixth power play of the game when Scottie Upshall went for hooking with 2:37 left, and O’Sullivan capitalized with his second in as many games to force overtime. He took a pass from Erik Westrum at the left point, took a step into the left circle and rifled a short side bullet by Rinne.
However, overtime was not to be. In the waning seconds, Tootoo sprinted to the far post and tipped in a Peverley feed from the left point into an open net, his second goal in as many playoff games this season.
Houston was 37-3-1-0 when leading after two periods in the regular season, and 40-0-1-0 when leading with five minutes remaining.
Haydar’s fifth of the post-season got Milwaukee on top just 4:06 into the game, with Aeros defenseman Erik Reitz in the box for interference. Sheldon Brookbank, at the right point, fired a shot headed wide of the net, but Haydar snuck behind the defense and acrobatically tipped the puck over Harding.
Houston, coming off an eight-day rest, allowed the game’s first goal for the first time in the playoffs.
Danny Irmen’s shot 7:31 into the game was Houston’s first of the contest, but the Aeros registered the next six attempts.
The Aeros scored 15 seconds later off the ensuing faceoff, with their much heralded checking line showing the way. Lundbohm, along the left wing boards, flipped a shot on net. It hit Ward’s upper body in the low slot, and the rookie winger came away with the puck. Rinne concentrated on Ward, who slid a pass to a cutting Olson through the left circle. Olson easily tapped the puck into the net for his second goal of the playoffs.
Houston kept up the pressure, forcing Rinne to make a nifty glove save on Erik Reitz’ right circle shot less than a minute later.
The Admirals got 1:55 of 5-on-3 time with 5:29 left in the first after back-to-back penalties to Chris Ovington and Olson. O’Sullivan forced a turnover on Upshall and got a breakaway, but Upshall caught up to him to poke the puck away. Harding swallowed up a heavy Brookbank blast from the left point near the end of the advantage.
Brookbank sprung from the penalty box on a breakaway six minutes into the second, but the big defenseman fired a shot well wide.
Two minutes later, it was the Aeros’ turn for a breakaway, as captain Kirby Law stole the puck from Kevin Klein at the Houston blueline and raced in alone. With Tootoo bearing down on him, Law slid a shot just wide of the left post.
The teams traded goals 13 seconds apart midway through the second.
First, Peverley notched his second of the post-season for Milwaukee, at 9:23. Aeros rookie defenseman Shawn Belle threw the puck through the slot and Peverley intercepted it just inside the right circle. He took two strides and blasted a shot that Harding got just a piece of, but the puck trickled over the line.
But again, the Aeros struck right back. Olson ripped a shot from the left circle, and Ward picked up the bouncing rebound and slid it under Rinne for his third of the playoffs.
Rinne made a sprawling save on O’Sullivan from the right doorstep with 6:55 left, with the Aeros passing precisely on the power play.
But the Aeros’ grinders gave them their first lead of the night, with 5:49 remaining in the second. Olson slid a breakout pass from his own blueline, and Lundbohm carried the puck into the Milwaukee zone on the right wing. Rushing towards the net, Lundbohm put a backhanded shot on Rinne, but the rookie goalie made the save. Again, Ward crashed the net and poked the loose puck under Rinne for his second of the night and fourth of the playoffs. Ward, a rookie out of the University of Prince Edward Island, scored eight goals in 66 regular season games.
Admirals agitator Tootoo went to the box with 3:35 left in the middle period after slashing Harding, who came up from his crouch shaking his glove hand.
Harding robbed Gamache of a goal from just outside the crease two minutes into the third. Gamache has 34 points (15-19=34) in 37 career regular season games against Houston. Seconds later, Harding kicked out his right pad to stone 14-year veteran Steve Lingren.
Haydar banged a shot off the side of the net three minutes later, bidding for his second of the game.
Upshall tried to go top shelf with 7:32 left, but Harding made a glove save. On the play, Tootoo threw a punch at Ryan Stokes, and the duo both went for roughing, setting up 4-on-4 time.
Harding stopped Peverley’s short side shot with his shoulder early in the 4-on-4.
Houston finished 1-for-6 on the power play, while Milwaukee went 1-for-4.