|Wolves 6, Aeros 5
| Official Box Score HOUSTON, Texas – Scott Barney tallied two goals and an assist, Ramzi Abid added a goal and a helper, and linemate Jared Ross supplied three assists, as the Chicago Wolves raced out to a five-goal lead and held on for a 6-5 victory over the Houston Aeros at Allstate Arena. Karl Stewart, Kip Miller and Preston Mizzi had a goal apiece, and Tuomas Tarkki made 23 saves for the Wolves, who have failed to advance into the post-season for the first time in team history.
Curtis Murphy and Patrick O’Sullivan each scored twice, Kirby Law also scored and Seamus Kotyk made 23 saves for Houston (49-24-3-3), which will finish in second place in the West Division thanks to Milwaukee defeating Grand Rapids 5-3 tonight. The Aeros will face third-place Peoria in the 2006 West Division Semifinals to begin the Calder Cup Playoffs, beginning Friday at 7:35 p.m. at Toyota Center. A complete West Division Semifinals schedule will be sent out later this evening. O’Sullivan now has a new team record 47 goals, and Roman Voloshenko chipped in three assists for Houston, which is 0-6-1-1 in its last eight road games since its last win, March 15 in Chicago.
Houston finishes the regular season with a 5:05 p.m. Easter Sunday tilt in Iowa, which is the fourth seed out of the West Division. The Stars will take on division champion Milwaukee.
Sprinting out to big leads and then holding on is nothing new for this series. Houston opened up a 5-0 lead before eking out a 6-5 victory on March 15 at Allstate Arena in a game eerily similar to tonight’s contest.
The Wolves retired former captain Steve Maltais’ jersey in a lengthy, 40-minute pre-game ceremony, and it took them just 20 seconds into the game to strike first. The Aeros pinched at the Chicago blueline, and the Wolves took off the other way. Barney finished off a breakaway pass from Ross for his 31st goal of the season.
Barney assisted Abid’s power play goal for a 2-0 lead at the 9:49 mark of the first. Barney threw the puck on net, and Abid tipped it by Kotyk in traffic for his team-leading 35th goal of the season.
Houston got a late power play in the first period, but it was Stewart who scored his 22nd of the season – sixth shorthanded – with 37 seconds remaining for a 3-0 Chicago lead.
Barney netted his 32nd goal and second of the game 2:14 into the second. Kotyk stopped Ross’ drive to the net, but Barney put the rebound in the net.
Miller scored his 19th of the season – ninth on the power play – at 7:04 of the second. He banked the puck off Kotyk and into the cage from behind the net.
The Aeros got two full minutes of a 5-on-3 late in the second, and found the scoreboard twice to get within three goals. Murphy’s drive from the point through traffic eluded Tarkki for his 13th of the season with 2:57 left. Rookie winger Joel Ward assisted on the goal, giving him points in four straight games for the first time in his career.
Chicago was given a bench minor, for another 5-on-3, and O’Sullivan tallied his new team record 46th goal of the season just after the first penalty expired. O’Sullivan hopped on a Voloshenko rebound and slid it by Tarkki.
Houston got more than four minutes of a power play beginning the third after a spearing major to Stewart. Foy just missed the net, and former Aero Travis Roche deflected a Law point-blank attempt just wide.
Then, a minor penalty to rookie Chris Ovington put the teams 4-on-4, but Murphy scored his second of the game and 14th of the season to get Houston within 5-3. Danny Irmen didn’t get all of his shot, but Murphy ripped the rebound by Tarkki with 4:45 gone in the third.
The Aeros got their ninth power play when Kevin Doell went to the box with 7:39 remaining in regulation. But Mizzi, signed to a pro tryout prior to the game to replace suspended former Aero Billy Tibbetts, took advantage of a turnover deep in the Houston zone and scored Chicago’s second shorthanded goal of the game and 22nd of the season.
The goal proved to be the backbreaker for the Aeros, and the game-winner for Chicago.
Law scored Houston’s third power play goal of the game with less than two minutes left, his 42nd goal and league-leading 108th point. He’s just one point off Jeff Christian’s 1998-99 team record. O’Sullivan got Houston within a point with 9.2 ticks remaining with Kotyk off for the extra attacker. The goal, his 47th, originally counted, then was waved off, and then counted again.
The Aeros couldn’t find the net again in the waning seconds.
Houston went 3-for-10 on the power play, while Chicago finished 2-for-4. The Aeros have allowed six power play goals in the last three games. The teams combined for 103 penalty minutes – 62 by the Wolves.
Notes: Not dressing for the Aeros were Shawn Belle, A.J. Thelen, Bill Kinkel, Brendan Bernakevitch and Andrei Nazarov. Houston fell to 9-18-0-2 when allowing four or more goals. Houston got center Erik Westrum, defenseman Erik Reitz and goalie Miroslav Kopriva back from NHL Minnesota. The trio is expected to be available for Sunday’s game in Iowa. Murphy’s two goals provide another $600 for “Murphy’s Mission”, benefiting “I Have a Dream”. The program has raised $2500 since March 2. An anonymous donor is giving $300 per Murphy goal and $100 per assist. Murphy went the first 75 games of the season without a two-goal game, but he has two in the last four contests. Chicago’s Francis Lessard picked up 29 penalty minutes, including his second instigating penalty in two nights. A victory Sunday would give the Aeros their third 50-win season in 12 campaigns. Houston is 5-14-3-2 in its last 24 trips to Allstate Arena.