|Aeros 4, Stars 3
| Official Box Score HOUSTON, Texas - Rem Murray and Curtis Murphy scored power play goals 90 seconds apart in the third period, as the Houston Aeros rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Iowa Stars at Toyota Center in the teams’ third straight meeting. Josh Harding outdueled former teammate Mike Smith with 35 saves, and Bryan Lundbohm and Peter Olvecky also scored for Houston, which took advantage of a key third-period penalty to Smith. The Aeros improved to 23-4-1-2 at home, already equaling their 2004-05 Toyota Center win mark in 30 games.
The Aeros (39-14-1-2) have won four straight and kept their two-point West Division lead over Milwaukee, which beat last-place San Antonio 2-1 at home tonight. Houston and Milwaukee face off in a critical two-game set this weekend at Bradley Center, beginning Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and continuing Sunday at 2 p.m. Houston’s 39 wins are one off the team’s 2004-05 total (40-28-6-6), with 24 games left.
Smith, who accumulated an Aeros goalie team-record 28 penalty minutes for Houston last season, made 40 saves, and Loui Eriksson, Peter Stastny and Mathias Tjarnqvist each scored for the Stars, who are 0-4-0-2 in their last six and 1-6-0-2 in their last nine. Iowa remained four points behind Omaha for the fourth and final playoff spot out in the West Division.
The teams were tied 1-1 after two periods, but the Stars went back on top on Stastny’s 13th goal, Iowa’s second power play tally of the night, at 4:34 of the third period. Dan Jancevski, at the left point, sent a pass through traffic to an unmolested Stastny at the right point. All Stastny had to do was make contact with the puck, and he did.
Houston went on the power play with 12:50 left in regulation, but it ended seven seconds later with a slashing call on Erik Westrum.
But Smith was his own worst enemy, picking up a holding the stick penalty with the teams 4-on-3. The Aeros scored on the ensuing faceoff, getting Murray’s 10th of the season just six seconds after the penalty at 8:13. Murray won the faceoff to Matt Foy to his left. Foy threw a bouncing puck towards the net, and Murray cut to the net and tapped the puck by Smith.
Two more Stars penalties led to a 5-on-3 for Houston, and Murphy scored at 9:43 - 90 seconds after Murray tied the game - to give the Aeros their first lead of the night. O’Sullivan, in the right corner, hit Murphy between the circles, and the diminutive blueliner ripped a one-timer by Smith.
Olvecky appeared to finish things off with his eighth goal, with 2:56 remaining, putting in a Murray rebound.
The Stars pulled Smith with 1:24 after a Houston penalty, and another minor gave Iowa a 6-on-3 for 18 seconds and a 6-on-4 for the game’s final 57 ticks. Tjarnqvist scored with 20 seconds left drawing Iowa within 4-3, but the Stars could get no closer.
Sixteen of the Aeros’ 39 victories have been come-from-behind, as Houston improved to 13-8-0-0 when allowing the game’s first goal.
Houston went 2-for-5 on the power play, while Iowa also finished 3-for-5. The Aeros are 10-for-32 with the man advantage in the last five games.
Iowa’s Kyle Brodziak thought he had the game’s first goal midway through the first period, but he clearly kicked the puck into the net.
Houston’s best chance of the first period came when Lundbohm broke in alone on a shorthanded feed from Josh Olson, but Smith made the save and covered up the rebound.
The Aeros have trailed after one period just once in their last 16 games.
Eriksson netted his 17th goal of the season, on the power play, just 1:49 into the second to put Iowa on top. Tjarnqvist broke in on the right wing and centered a feed to Eriksson cutting up the slot, and Eriksson redirected the puck by Harding.
Smith kicked out his left pad to keep Petr Taticek’s rebound attempt from the right doorstep out of the net six minutes into the second.
But a minute later, Lundbohm potted his ninth of the season to tie things up. He started the puck with a steal in his own zone and carried the puck to center. Lundbohm got his give-and-go pass from Josh Olson just inside the blueline, and he snuck a shot under Smith’s pads.
Murphy looked to put his team on top with a power play goal midway through the first, but Smith snared the shot with his glove, making a dynamic save on the knuckler from the center point. Seconds later, Murphy nearly sent Smith to the bench with a drive off the netminder’s wrist that was so hard the rebound caromed to center ice. Smith stayed down for a minute but remained in the game.
Smith showed no effects of the blast, again flashing the leather two minutes later on a Taticek shot from the high slot.
Harding stopped Tjarnqvist’s penalty shot with 8:42 left in the second, after Lundbohm was forced to cover the puck in the crease with Harding out of position, stopping a sure goal with the puck bouncing around. Harding knocked the attempt aside with his glove, and a minute later he stopped Yared Hagos on a mini breakaway.
Iowa’s Janos Vas had an open net to shoot at 20 seconds into the third period, but he fired well high of the crossbar.
Notes: Not dressing for the Aeros were Colin Peters, Bill Kinkel, Joey Tetarenko and Andrei Nazarov. The Aeros loaned goalie Miroslav Kopriva to CHL Austin prior to the game. The Aeros are 17-5-1-2 in one-goal games, and an impressive 24-8-1-2 in games decided by two goals or less. Houston has seen nine of its last 10 games be decided by one or two goals, going 6-2-0-1. Houston swept an opponent in three straight regular season games for the first time in nine attempts in the AHL. The Aeros were previously 2-5-1 in game three of such sets. O’Sullivan leads all AHL rookies with 62 points (31-31=62). Cory Larose holds Aeros rookie records in goals (32), assists (32) and points (64), set in 2001-02. Opposing players are just 1-for-6 on penalty shots all-time against the Aeros, including misses on the last five attempts since Ravil Gusmanov scored for Chicago against Ryan Bach on November 13, 1997. Harding is 3-for-3 in his career, having stopped Manchester’s Connor James earlier this season and Chicago’s Brad Larsen on February 2, 2005. AHL shooters have converted on just 14-of-55 penalty shots this season (25.5 percent). Each of Houston’s last four games have been decided by one goal, and the Aeros are 3-0-0-1 in those contests. Neither Westrum nor Kirby Law, the top two point-getters in the AHL, found the scoresheet.