Aeros 5, Rivermen 4 (OT); Aeros lead best-of-seven series, 1-0
Official Box Score
HOUSTON, Texas – AHL leading point-getter Kirby Law scored 4:51 into overtime after Bryan Lundbohm and Peter Olvecky scored 23 seconds apart early in the third period, as the Houston Aeros rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 5-4 victory over the Peoria Rivermen in Game 1 of the West Division Semifinals at Toyota Center. Lundbohm and Joel Ward each posted a goal and an assist, rookie Shawn Belle also scored and Josh Harding made 22 saves for Houston, which won its first ever Calder Cup Playoffs game at Toyota Center in six tries and hosts Game 2 on Saturday at 7:35 p.m. Click here to buy tickets.
Houston has 23 come-from-behind victories out of 51 this season, including four of its last five wins. Tonight marked the eighth comeback from two goals down. The Aeros are 12-2 all-time in Game 1’s of a best-of-seven series, and they are 7-4 when winning Game 1.
Mike Zigomanis tallied two goals and an assist, linemate Lee Stempniak had three assists and rookie David Backes notched a goal and an assist for Peoria, which took a 4-2 lead into the final period and fell to 1-5 at Toyota Center this season. Timofei Shishkanov also scored, and rookie Chris Beckford-Tseu stopped 33 shots for the Rivermen.
Law was held without a playoff goal in 22 games over the last three seasons, but snapped the streak in fine fashion tonight. As usual, it was his running mate – second-leading scorer Erik Westrum – that set up the goal. Westrum, low in the right circle, slid a pass across the crease to Law at the left doorstep. Law one-timed a low skidding shot by Beckford-Tseu for his fifth playoff goal in 41 games.
Houston improved to 11-10 all-time in overtime playoff games, including 5-6 at home. This was the first OT playoff game at Toyota Center, and the Aeros’ first since Game 4 of the 2003 Calder Cup Finals, when Stephane Veilleux scored at 2:22 of the first overtime for a 3-2 win over Hamilton to even the series at 2-2.
The Aeros took just 2:21 into the game to get on the board, as Belle – who scored two goals in 61 regular season games combined in Houston and Iowa – found the net. Ward and Lundbohm combined to dig the puck out of the right corner, and Lundbohm fed Belle in the high slot. Belle one-timed a shot through traffic and top shelf by Beckford-Tseu.
Shishkanov countered for Peoria at the 8:24 mark of the first, as the Rivermen caught the Aeros in a line change. Gavin Morgan sent a cross-ice 3-on-1 pass to a cutting Shishkanov at the left doorstep, and Shishkanov got a piece of the puck with his leg and knocked it into the net.
Peoria’s third power play of the opening period led to Zigomanis’ go-ahead goal. Stempniak, in the left circle, fired a cross-ice pass to Zigomanis low in the right circle. Zigomanis roofed a shot over Harding’s shoulder that quickly went in and out of the net.
Houston’s Patrick O’Sullivan just missed the far post on a Houston power play as time wound down in the opening period.
Early in the second, Erik Reitz’ drive from the center point got knocked down in front, and Beckford-Tseu stood his ground to cover up Roman Voloshenko’s rebound attempt.
A minute later, Olvecky had a stab at an open net on a wide open rebound of a Matt Foy miss, but he couldn’t connect.
The Rivermen took a two-goal lead at 4:35 of the second, with their second goal that the Aeros argued to no avail went in with a kicking motion. Stempniak, in the right circle, hit Zigomanis driving towards the net. The puck crossed the line in a crush of bodies, and the goal was awarded to Zigomanis – his second of the night.
Beckford-Tseu kicked out Ward’s 2-on-1 blast midway through the second, with the Aeros shorthanded.
Houston got 1:55 of 5-on-3 time beginning at the 9:51 mark of the second. After Mike Mottau got called for hooking, Blake Evans whacked O’Sullivan with a high stick on the ensuing faceoff.
Voloshenko had a great chance halfway into the two-man advantage, but his stick snapped in half in the low shot. Seconds later, Beckford-Tseu made great saves on Voloshenko and Law. The rookie netminder also got a shoulder on Law’s blast from the left circle late in the power play.
The teams combined to score two goals in nine seconds later in the second, with Backes’ momentum-killing goal following Ward’s emotional uplifter.
Ward took a Josh Olson feed and let rip from the right point in transition. Beckford-Tseu made the save, but Peoria defenseman Brendan Buckley tapped the puck into his own net.
But off the faceoff, the Rivermen pushed the puck ahead and got Backes’ goal to restore the lead to 4-2. Shishkanov hit Backes in stride in the right circle, and the hulking rookie ripped a top shelf blast by Harding.
Peoria’s Brendan Brooks rang a shot off the crossbar in the closing minute of the second, helping the Aeros stay within two.
Harding robbed Zigomanis of a hat trick a minute into the third, making a glove save.
But the Aeros then scored two goals within 23 seconds to tie the game at 4-4.
First, Lundbohm tipped Olson’s wraparound attempt through a tiny opening inside the near post at 1:56. Lundbohm hadn’t scored in 23 games dating back to February 23 against Iowa.
Olvecky equaled things up just 23 ticks later. Reitz, a member of the Aeros’ 2003 Calder Cup winning team, fired a shot from the center point. Olvecky, in front of the net, tipped the puck by Beckford-Tseu in his first playoff game as an Aero.
Houston’s Scott Ferguson squared off with Mike Glumac along the left wing boards at 3:41 of the third.
Harding made his best save of the night on Jay McClement, who spent all but 11 games in the NHL this season. Harding went post-to-post to get a pad on the doorstep shot.
The Aeros got two power plays in the final 8:38 of regulation, including a holding call to Jeff Woywitka with 4:01 showing. Beckford-Tseu saved the day on that man advantage, as Law turned and fired from in deep off a long pass from Curtis Murphy.
Peoria’s Brendan Brooks ripped a shorthanded attempt with 2:38 remaining, but Harding made a fine shoulder save.
Harding robbed Glumac with a game-saving stop with 15 seconds remaining. Glumac got loose in the low slot and ripped a shot, but Harding made a stick save.
Two minutes into overtime, Shishkanov got loose for a quick snapper from just inside the left circle, but Harding kicked out his pad to make the stop.
Houston finished 0-for-6 on the power play, while Peoria went 1-for-4. The Aeros haven’t scored on their last 40 man advantages against the Rivermen.
Not dressing for the Aeros were Miroslav Kopriva, A.J. Thelen, Colin Peters, Bill Kinkel, Clayton Stoner
and Brendan Bernakevitch.
In attendance were golfers Padraig Harrington and Mathias Gronberg, in town for the Shell Houston Open. Gronberg is among the tournament leaders heading into the weekend.
Olvecky has two goals and three assists in a four-game point streak.
Ward has eight points (5-3=8) in his last eight games, including five of his nine goals this season.
Ward and Belle earned $150 for “Rookies for Ronald”.
Murphy assisted on the game-winner, raising another $200 for “Murphy’s Mission”, benefiting “I Have a Dream”. The total is up to $2,800.
Tonight was Houston’s third-ever series opening overtime game. The Aeros won back-to-back Game 1 OT’s in their 2003 Calder Cup year, defeating both Norfolk and Grand Rapids.