“In retrospect,” Kevin Constantine said after the Houston Aeros 4-3 double overtime victory over the Manitoba Moose. “I think it was a bad coaching decision not to call the timeout. If we’d lost, it would have been a long, long summer for me.”
But luckily for Constantine, and for the Aeros, the summer is not starting. Yet. As once again the Houston Aeros held off playoff elimination and live to see another day.
And looking back at the first 59:39 of the game, it’s hard to believe that this game came down to overtime and the failure of Constantine to call a timeout. Yet it did as the Aeros and Moose played one of the most entertaining and exciting hockey games seen in Toyota Center in a long time.
The game got off to a great start for the Aeros when Maxim Noreau converted on the power play at 2:56 to put the Aeros up 1-0 in the first period. And just under two minutes later, Tony Hrkac found himself in the perfect position to get his stick on the rebound of a Robbie Earl shot and sink the puck in the net to put the Aeros up 2-0 at 4:22. Then at 17:24 of the second period – topping a nearly 15 minute barrage of non-stop, high-speed hockey – a streaking Matt Beaudoin got the pass from John Lammers and put the puck past an out-of-position Cory Schneider to put the Aeros up 3-0.
Then the unthinkable happened. The Moose came out to start the third period with a new goalie as Curtis Sanford took the place of Schneider, the ace number one Moose goalie who’d played every minute of every playoff game for the Moose. But though the Aeros got several good opportunities, they couldn’t get the puck past Sanford. The Moose, however, had better some better luck.
The first Moose goal came at 2:29 of the third just seconds before the Aeros were about to kill off a penalty. But Michael Grabner got the puck past Matt Climie to make the score 3-1, and that’s where the score remained for the next 17 minutes. But as the crowd was roaring and the players were preparing to jump off of the bench and celebrate the sure-awarding of the number one star to Climie, the Moose, on the power play and using the six-on-four advantage, surrounded the net and kept shoving the puck at Climie as the Aeros failed to clear the puck. So at 19:39, Jason Krog got the puck past Climie to make the score 3-2. Then came that time in the game that had Constantine wishing he would have called the timeout as with just two seconds remaining in the game and the victory within their grasp, former Aero Mark Cullen got the puck past Climie to send the game to overtime.
“I felt good the whole game, but I caught a couple of unlucky breaks at the end there, Climie said. “They had a couple of lucky goals to tie it up. I just wanted to keep the boys in it and give them a chance in overtime. The third goal was a kind of weak one to give up, with just two seconds left. And I wanted to do my part in overtime to shut the door.”
So for the next 24:19, Climie did, indeed, shut the door, stopping 18 Manitoba shots in the two overtimes. Trouble was, Sanford, was just as good as Climie, stopping 16 shots. Until, at 4:19 of the second overtime, Robbie Earl found Tony Hrkac in the slot and Hrkac found a way to get the puck in the net to give the Aeros the 4-3 victory.
“Benoit [Pouliot] made a nice play behind the net to get it in,” Hrkac said. “Robbie [Earl] got it in the corner, and their forwards were kind of on me, but then they spread out because they were thinking about Robbie going to the point, and there was a little lane there, so Robbie saw it and I saw it, and he gave me the puck, the goalie went down and boom, over the shoulder.”
The Aeros then stormed the ice and the crowd erupted.
“I thought it was a great play,” Constantine said. “Robbie had enough patient and poise to wait till the pass was there. Like a coy veteran, you wonder how Hrkac put it in.”
And suddenly, Manitoba’s seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead didn’t look so insurmountable as, wonder of all wonders, the Aeros found away to get this series back to Winnipeg for a Game Six on Monday night.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
Matt Climie was solid in this game, despite the last 21 seconds. Except for some mop-up duty in two games, he’s barely played, and recently, with Nolan Schaefer’s return, he’s not even had as much ice time with the team. Then again, it’s not every AHL team that has a fourth string goalie who actually played three games in the NHL this season. And when the time came tonight, he was ready.
“It’s the AHL playoffs,” he said. “It’s a dream come true to play this caliber of hockey. I just wanted to make sure I was prepared and ready to go tonight. I just wanted to make the most of this opportunity, and the guys inside here have really welcomed me and I just wanted to do my part to them win.”
Jesse Schultz, who also returned to action tonight, stressed that the team has confidence in all of their goalies, then he mentioned how difficult tonight was for Climie. “He was unbelievable,” Schultz said. “He didn’t travel with us on the road last time. It’s tough to skate with four or five guys here and not see a lot of shots.”
Kevin Constantine called Climie’s play solid, and it looks as if he’ll be getting the start on Monday night.
Jesse Schultz returned to action for the first time since injuring his ankle in Game Six against Peoria almost four weeks ago. And from the press box vantage point, he looked really good out there.
“I feel pretty good, actually,” he said of his ankle. “It held up real well. It was four weeks tomorrow since it happened. I wasn’t sure what to expect getting back in there. It’s felt pretty good the past couple of days, and it’s held up, so hopefully it just keeps getting better.”
With his two assists, Corey Locke has now tied Mark Freer for the most points by an Aero in a playoff season. Freer got 22 points in 1999 (11-11=22), and Locke also has 22 points (11-11=22). Matt Beaudoin’s goal gives him 17 points (8-9=17) for the playoffs.
And how about a little appreciation for the old man. Tony Hrkac’s two goals gives him 14 points for the playoffs (4-10=14), including three goals in the past two games. Hrkac told us after the game that while he knew he could still play when he got the call from Troy Ward, he still didn’t expect anything like this.
During the game, we found out that Tom Lynn, the Wild’s assistant GM and the Aeros GM would be staying with the team in his same capacity to work under new GM Chuck Fletcher. And if anybody has a right to be happy about the Aeros right now, it’s Lynn, who during the offseason added Krys Kolanos, Corey Locke, and Jesse Schultz to the team and who, during the season, added Matt Beaudoin and Tony Hrkac, traded for Robbie Earl, and even though the playoffs had already started, was able to get Matt Climie from the Dallas Stars for the remainder of the team’s Calder Cup run.
So I just want to congratulate Tom on the job he did with this Aeros team, and for keeping his job with the Wild since often, when people from outside an organization take over a team, they bring in their own people to work under them.
The quote of the season definitely goes to Kevin Constantine who, after it was all over, was asked his thoughts on the game. “I always look at President Obama – or any president,” he said. “I look at how they age. I started the playoffs at 50 and I’m 73 years old already.”
The Aeros are making the trip to Winnipeg tomorrow. They’ll fly to Minneapolis tomorrow morning. From there they’ll fly to Fargo, ND. And from Fargo they’ll take a three-hour bus ride to Winnipeg, arriving sometime late tomorrow night. They’ll probably practice on Sunday, and they’ll play on Monday night.
And for those of you (like Danny Irmen) who are wondering if I’ll be making any of the games in Winnipeg, the answer, unfortunately, is no. I’d love to be there, but damn, the cheapest airplane ticket I could find was around $1300, and I couldn’t even guarantee that I’d make the arena by game time. I’d love nothing better than to be there, but I’m unemployed at the moment, and there’s no possible flight combination I could use that could get me there on my frequent flier miles.
So guys, you’re just going to have to do it without me this time. Sorry.
There’s no way, after Monday’s game, that I thought the Aeros were going to get this series back to Winnipeg. No way. So I thought that, to play us out tonight, I’d go with a little classic rock and The Beatles playing, appropriately enough, “Get Back” – and Paul’s even got him a playoff beard going.