Aeros, Bulldogs grab 3-2 series leads

2011 Calder Cup Playoffs

Staring at the prospect of taking a 3-2 series deficit back on the road, Houston tied the game with a pair of goals in the final five minutes of regulation before Robbie Earl scored at 8:45 of overtime to give the Aeros a huge 3-2 win over visiting Milwaukee on Friday in Game 5 of the West Division Finals.

Courtesy of their 11th straight postseason overtime victory, the Aeros snatched a 3-2 lead in the series and can close it out on Sunday night when the teams return to the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

This tilt was scoreless through the first 30 minutes, but Admirals forward Ryan Thang broke the deadlock 11:28 into the second period. Steve Begin made it a 2-0 lead with a shorthanded marker in the frame’s closing seconds.

Milwaukee seemed destined for a regulation victory behind the goaltending of rookie Jeremy Smith (50 saves), but Earl broke the first-year pro’s shutout bid on the power play at 15:38 of the third period. Chad Rau then tied it up with just 1:21 left in regulation play.

Earl’s overtime winner – his second of the game and third of the playoffs – was assisted by rookie Casey Wellman and Cody Almond.

Houston has not dropped an extra-session contest in the playoffs since Game 2 of the 2003 Calder Cup Finals at Hamilton, a 2-1 quadruple-overtime defeat which, at the time, was the longest game in AHL history.

Aeros rookie goaltender Matt Hackett earned the win with 23 saves on 25 shots between the pipes.

Hamilton brought a 2-1 lead into the third period and then blitzed host Manitoba for three more goals en route to a 5-1 win over the Moose at the MTS Centre on Friday, giving the Bulldogs a 3-2 series lead in the North Division Finals.

The series shifts back to Copps Coliseum on Sunday night, and another victory would up the Bulldogs back into the Western Conference Finals for the second time in as many years.

Hamilton sniper Nigel Dawes (7-6-13) both opened and closed the game’s offense, scoring on the power play just 1:09 into the first period and sealing the win with a late empty-netter.

Ryan White posted a goal and an assist for the Bulldogs, while Jimmy Bonneau and Ryan Russell also found the back of the net. Rookie defenseman Kyle Klubertanz registered a pair of assists in the winning effort.

Bulldogs goaltender Drew MacIntyre bounced back from back-to-back losses to make 22 saves in net, improving to 6-4-0 with a league-best 1.83 goals-against average through 11 playoff appearances.

Marco Rosa notched the lone goal for the Moose, who, in order to advance, will need to rally from a 3-1 deficit for the second time in as many rounds. Manitoba climbed out of such a hole to knock off Lake Erie in the division semifinals, winning Games 6 and 7 of that series on the road.

West Division Finals – Series “L” (best-of-7)
W1-Milwaukee Admirals vs. W2-Houston Aeros || Preview
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 29 – MILWAUKEE 3, Houston 1
Game 2 – Sun., May 1 – Houston 2, MILWAUKEE 0
Game 3 – Tue., May 3 – Milwaukee 5, HOUSTON 3
Game 4 – Thu., May 5 – HOUSTON 3, Milwaukee 2 (OT)
Game 5 – Fri., May 6 – HOUSTON 3, Milwaukee 2 (OT)
Game 6 – Sun., May 8 – Houston at Milwaukee, 6:00
*Game 7 – Tue., May 10 – Houston at Milwaukee, 8:00

North Division Finals – Series “K” (best-of-7)
N1-Hamilton Bulldogs vs. N3-Manitoba Moose || Preview
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 28 – HAMILTON 4, Manitoba 1
Game 2 – Sun., May 1 – HAMILTON 4, Manitoba 2
Game 3 – Tue., May 3 – MANITOBA 5, Hamilton 4
Game 4 – Wed., May 4 – MANITOBA 2, Hamilton 1 (2OT)
Game 5 – Fri., May 6 – Hamilton 5, MANITOBA 1
Game 6 – Sun., May 8 – Manitoba at Hamilton, 7:30
*Game 7 – Mon., May 9 – Manitoba at Hamilton, 7:30