Official Box Score HOUSTON, Texas – Erik Westrum tallied a goal and an assist, Joel Ward and Matt Foy each scored first-period goals, and Josh Olson added a 175-foot empty netter in the third period, as the Houston Aeros climbed within two points of first place with a workmanlike 4-1 victory over the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights at Toyota Center. Seamus Kotyk made 26 saves and carried a shutout into the final six minutes as Houston (48-23-3-3) moved to 102 points – two behind idle first-place Milwaukee but with three games left, and one game in hand. The Aeros can secure the division title with wins in their final three games, or several other combinations if Milwaukee loses either of its final two games. Houston is just three points up on third-place Peoria, which beat San Antonio 3-2 tonight
The Aeros play host to the Knights again Friday at 7:35 p.m. Buy tickets
. The first 3,000 fans will receive an Aeros rally towel as the Aeros wrap up their regular season home slate.
Brent Krahn made 32 stops and Justin Taylor scored for Omaha (81 points), which is winless in its last six (0-4-1-1) to drop five points behind Iowa for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division with three games remaining. The Stars are defeated Chicago 5-4 in overtime tonight
to knock the Wolves out of playoff contention. Iowa can clinch the final playoff spot with one point over its last three games.
Aeros newcomer Danny Irmen just missed his first pro goal 2:35 into the contest. Patrick O’Sullivan got loose at the left doorstep and Krahn made the save, then did the splits to rob Irmen’s poke at a rebound.
But just 22 seconds later, Ward’s sixth of the season and second in four games put Houston on top. Olson won a battle for the puck behind the boards, and got it to Bryan Lundbohm in the right circle. Lundbohm fed Ward in the mid slot, and the rookie ripped a top shelf shot by Krahn.
Omaha’s Carsen Germyn rang a shot off the post on the power play four minutes into the game.
Kotyk was outstanding with the Knights again on the power play with 12:45 left in the first, going post-to-post to make an acrobatic save on Eric Nystrom’s 2-on-1 rip from the left circle.
Omaha’s Warren Peters
also hit the post midway through the first.
Irmen had another fine chance with the teams 4-on-4 with 7:39 left, but his shot from the left circle through traffic hit Krahn.
Foy extended the lead to 2-0 with 6:29 left in the first, with Houston on its first power play of the game. Westrum left a pass for Curtis Murphy at the center point. The veteran defenseman sent a picture-perfect pass to Foy, waiting at the left doorstep, and the third-year winger tipped the puck over Krahn for his 12th of the season.
Houston has outscored its opponents 33-12 in the first period in its last 17 wins, and is plus-34 (88-54) overall on the season.
Krahn turned aside Westrum’s slap at a bouncing Kirby Law feed a minute into the second.
Roman Voloshenko just pushed a nifty O’Sullivan 2-on-1 feed with the Aeros on the power play 5:30 into the middle period.
Krahn kept the Knights in the game midway through the second. O’Sullivan blocked a Zenith Komarniski attempt at the blueline and broke in shorthanded. Krahn made a pad save, but was left out of position. O’Sullivan picked up the rebound and fired at an apparent open net, but Krahn recovered to make a diving glove save.
Omaha’s Warren Peters
fanned on a wide open power play shot from just outside the crease with no Aeros around, with 8:30 left in the second.
Kotyk made a great body save on rookie Adam Cracknell’s blast from the left circle with Omaha on a power play and 4:00 remaining in the middle stanza.
Houston got 36 seconds of a 5-on-3 early in the third, leading Aeros head coach Rob Daum to call a timeout to rest his top power play unit. The Knights fifth-ranked penalty kill unit stayed strong, keeping them within two goals.
Westrum made it 3-0 with 7:45 remaining, taking a pass from Law behind the net and putting it near side by Krahn for his 33rd goal and 96th point of the season.
The Knights got a power play with 7:08 left and pulled Krahn. Olson caused a turnover deep in his own zone, and flipped the puck some 175-feet from inside his own faceoff circle and into the net for his 12th goal of the season – Houston’s second shorthanded goal in as many games.
Taylor ruined Kotyk’s shutout bid by scoring on that power play, taking a feed from Adam Cracknell behind the net and beating the goalie glove side with 5:12 remaining.
Houston finished 1-for-6 on the power play, while Omaha went 1-for-7. The Aeros have scored power play goals in back-to-back games for the first time since a 15-game run February 11-March 17. Notes: Not dressing for the Aeros were A.J. Thelen, Colin Peters, Bill Kinkel, Brendan Bernakevitch, Greg Mauldin and Andrei Nazarov. Irmen wore a visor after getting taking a stick up high in his first pro game on Sunday. Law has a nine-game point streak (5-9=14). The AHL’s leading point-getter (41-66=107) is two points behind Brian Wiseman’s 1998-99 team record of 109 points, with three games left. Westrum is third in the league with 96 points (33-63=96). Aeros goalie Josh Harding made his second NHL start with Minnesota tonight and blanked Chicago 2-0 on 27 saves. Murphy is second in the AHL among defensemen in scoring with 64 points (12-52=64). He’s one of the top candidates for the Eddie Shore Award, the AHL’s top defenseman, to be announced Wednesday. Murphy is one of just four players to win the award twice. Murphy’s assist upped the total raised for “Murphy’s Mission”, benefiting “I Have a Dream”, to $1800. Houston is 23-3-6-1 all-time at home in April regular season games, including 7-1-2-1 at Toyota Center. The Aeros improved to 29-6-2-2 at home, the second-best such record in the AHL. A victory Friday will give them just their second 30-win home season in team history.