|Aeros 6, Wolves 5
| Official Box Score ROSEMONT, Ill. – Rookie sensation Patrick O’Sullivan netted one of Houston’s team record five power play goals and added two assists, and newcomer Shawn Belle added a goal and a helper, as the Aeros raced out to a five-goal lead and held on for an edge-of-the-seat 6-5 victory over the Chicago Wolves at Allstate Arena. AHL leading scorer Kirby Law, Roman Voloshenko and Matt Foy each added had a goal and an assist, Scott Ferguson also scored and Miroslav Kopriva made 33 saves for the Aeros (45-17-1-2), who bettered their 2004-05 point total (92) and increased their first-place lead over idle Milwaukee to six points, with a game in hand. Erik Westrum and Curtis Murphy each supplied two assists as Houston reduced its magic number to clinch a playoff spot to five points, a combination of points gained by the Aeros and points lost by Iowa, which won 5-2 at Manchester tonight.
The Aeros are 5-1-0-0 this season against Chicago, which knocked them out of the 2005 Calder Cup Playoffs, including three wins in the last nine days. Houston has won back-to-back regular-season meetings at Allstate Arena for the first time in its five seasons in the AHL. The Aeros last won two in a row during a four-game streak from in the 2000-01 season. Houston has actually won four straight in the Windy City dating back to a 2-1 OT win last April 21 in Game 2 of the West Division Semifinals. Overall, the Aeros have won five straight versus Chicago for the first time since a five-game run April 9, 1995-January 11, 1997.
The Aeros improved to 21-5-1-2 in one-goal games, and an impressive 28-9-1-2 in games decided by two goals or less. Houston has seen 14 of its last 18 games be decided by one or two goals, going 10-3-0-1. Houston’s 21 one-goal wins are the most in the AHL. Chicago, meanwhile, fell to 9-7-3-8 in such games. Only Cleveland has fewer wins (7-6-2-2) in one-goal games than the Wolves. Each of the last four games between the Aeros and Wolves has been decided by one goal.
Houston plays game three a four-game road trip Friday in Milwaukee at 7 p.m. It continues a stretch of nine road games out of 10 for the Aeros, who play just one home game the rest of the month (this Sunday against San Antonio).
Karl Stewart tallied two goals and an assist, Brian Maloney and Kevin Doell chipped in a goal and two assists apiece and Pat Dwyer also scored for sixth-place Chicago, which is 0-3-0-2 in its last five and dropped 11 points behind Omaha for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division. The Wolves, who got 26 saves from Michael Garnett, have 15 games remaining.
Garnett gloved aside Josh Olson’s penalty shot attempt at the 9:09 mark of the first period, after the Aeros winger was hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway.
Stewart fired a 2-on-1, shorthanded attempt wide four minutes later.
After failing to score on that power play, the Aeros capitalized on the man advantage with 5:37 left in the first. Murphy just kept the puck in at the blueline and got it to Law at the side of the net. Law saucered a pass to O’Sullivan, who fired the puck into the net for his team-best 42nd goal of the season – 16th on the power play.
Kopriva was outstanding late in the first, keeping Houston on top. He robbed Wolves leading scorer Ramzi Abid. Seconds later on the other end, Garnett stoned Westrum.
Belle, in just his second game since being acquired last week from the Dallas Stars organization, netted his first with the Aeros and just his second overall of the season 2:29 into the second. O’Sullivan left a drop pass for Belle, and the hulking defenseman ripped a shot top shelf over Garnett’s glove.
Houston got 35 seconds of a 5-on-3 to kick off a five-minute power play three minutes later, when Maloney high-sticked Law to the ice. The Aeros didn’t score with the two-man advantage, but wasted little time scoring three times on the extended advantage a 5-0 lead.
Foy took a Murphy feed and deposited it by Garnett for his ninth goal of the season at 6:12. Just 31 seconds later, Ferguson one-timed Clayton Stoner’s feed from the point by the netminder for his fourth goal as an Aero.
Voloshenko’s 30th goal of the season – his 18th on the power play – made it 5-0 at the 10:20 mark, as he whipped Peter Olvecky’s pass off a body in front and by Garnett.
The high-octane Aeros scored four goals in a period for the sixth time this season.
But that’s when the pesky Wolves started clawing back.
Stewart poked his own rebound by Kopriva, getting Chicago on the board with 3:31 left in the second.
Kopriva left another rebound on the deck, leading to Dwyer’s power play goal with 1:41 remaining in the middle period. Dwyer swatted Jimmy Sharrow’s point blast by the rookie netminder.
Stewart got his second of the game and career-best 18th of the season 2:16 into the third, drawing within 5-3. Stewart banged a shot off Kopriva’s blocker and into the net.
The Aeros pushed the lead back to three goals at 4:25 of the final period, after Garnett picked up a penalty for clearing the puck over the glass. Westrum redirected a pass from O’Sullivan with his skate to a wide-open Law. The Aeros’ captain had an open net to shoot into, and he didn’t miss, registering his 36th goal of the season.
Doell crashed a mad scramble in front for a goal at 6:08, trimming the Aeros’ lead back to 6-4.
Just 3:01 later, Maloney helped atone for the high-sticking major, stealing the puck in the Houston zone and ripping a shot over Kopriva’s blocker for his 13th goal of the season.
Kopriva recovered, making a spectacular save on Maloney’s attempt to tie the game with 7:14 left.
Ferguson went off for elbowing with 3:59 remaining in regulation, giving Chicago a power play to try to tie the game.
The Wolves did get the puck into the net, but referee Brian Pochmara waved off the goal. It appeared as though Chicago interfered with Kopriva, but the only penalty on the play was on Abid, who got an unsportsmanlike minor for arguing the no call on the goal.
Sharrow hit the post for Chicago with less than a minute left as Garnett came off the bench for the extra attacker. The Wolves couldn’t get the equalizer.
The Aeros have been outscored 12-2 in the third period over its last six games. They are 3-3-0-0 in that stretch.
Houston finished 5-for-10 on the power play, while Chicago went 1-for-5. The Aeros had scored four power play goals in a game on eight occasions. Houston established a new team record for power play goals in a season with 98. The old mark was 94, set in 1998-99. The Aeros are 25-5-0-1 when scoring at least two power play goals, and they’ve done that in 21 of their last 40 games.
Notes: Not dressing for the Aeros were Colin Peters, Bill Kinkel, newcomer Greg Mauldin and Andrei Nazarov. Kinkel sat out the fifth game of a seven-game AHL suspension. He’s eligible to return Sunday at home against San Antonio. Murphy’s two assists earned another $200 for “Murphy’s Mission”, benefiting I Have a Dream. He’s helped the charity earn $800 in seven games. Murphy’s 57 points (10-47=57) this season tie his career-high, set in his rookie campaign of 1998-99 in Orlando. His 57 points are three off Syracuse’s Andy Delmore’s league-best for defensemen. Forward Brendan Bernakevitch, acquired on loan from Manchester on Monday, made his Aeros debut. Law kept his two-point lead in the AHL scoring race over Westrum. Law has 93 points (36-57=93), two ahead of Westrum (31-60=91). Westrum leads Law by three in the assist race. Law has the third-highest point total in a single season by an Aero, while Westrum is fourth. Brian Wiseman notched each a 109- and 98-point season. O’Sullivan continues to lead AHL rookies with 78 points (42-36=78) – 10 more than any other player. He extended his point streak to six games (8-4=12). O’Sullivan has 24 points (14-10=24) in his last 14 games, and 23 goals in the last 24 games. His 42 goals trail only Jeff Christian’s total of 45 in 1998-99 for the most in franchise history. The goal total is also tied for the most by an AHL rookie since the 1991-92 season. Rochester’s Thomas Vanek potted 42 last season. O’Sullivan has 13 points (8-5=13) in just six games against Chicago this season. Law has a five-game point streak (2-8=10), including a goal in each of his last two games. Voloshenko’s 18 power play goals are two off Christian’s 1998-99 team record. There had been just seven 30-goal seasons in the Aeros’ first 11 campaigns, but they have four 30-goal scorers this season (O’Sullivan, Law, Westrum and Voloshenko). Houston hadn’t scored six goals at Allstate Arena since October 24, 2001. Only once in the history of the series has the Aeros scored more than six goals – in a 7-2 win at Chicago on April 9, 1995, just the second meeting ever between the teams. Houston improved to 7-13-0-1 when allowing five or more goals. The Aeros scored six or more goals in a game for the 10th time in 65 games this season.