HAMILTON 4, HOUSTON 2
Hamilton parlayed a 12-5 first-period shots advantage into a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes and went on to double up visiting Houston by a 4-2 count on Friday at Copps Coliseum, staving off elimination for a second straight game in the Western Conference Finals.
The Bulldogs, who lost the first three games each by a one-goal margin, have now posted back-to-back victories and forced the series back to Houston for Game 6 on Sunday afternoon. If necessary, Game 7 would also be in Houston on Tuesday.
Rookie Paul Zanette, appearing in just his ninth game of the playoffs, staked the Bulldogs to a 1-0 lead when he scored 8:18 after the opening face-off. Zanette, who netted 29 goals as a senior at Niagra University this season, posted his second postseason goal and first in exactly one month since scoring at Oklahoma City on Apr. 20.
Hamilton quickly padded its lead 1:59 later as Aaron Palushaj converted a power play opportunity for his sixth goal of the playoffs, giving him four points (2-2-4) over the past two games.
Houston forward Jean-Michel Daoust cut his team’s deficit in half with an unassisted goal – his first of the playoffs – 5:04 into the second period, but Ryan Russell netted what turned out to be an enormous shorthanded goal at 8:22 of the third period to give Hamilton a 3-1 advantage.
Russell has now produced three goals and five points in his last four games after totaling just four goals through his first 14 playoff outings this spring.
Bulldogs forward Ryan White posted two assists for a second straight game, and goaltender Drew MacIntyre turned aside 31 of 33 shots in net, improving to 9-2 lifetime in Calder Cup Playoff elimination games.
Of the 122 teams in AHL history to trail a best-of-7 series 3-0, Hamilton is just the 15th to force a Game 6. Only two clubs have come all the way back from that deficit to win the series – the 1960 Rochester Americans (vs. Cleveland) and the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings (vs. Hershey).
The winner of this series will advance to the Calder Cup Finals to battle Binghamton, which completed a four-game sweep of Charlotte in the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday.
Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
W2-Houston Aeros vs. N1-Hamilton Bulldogs
Game 1 – Fri., May 13 – HOUSTON 2, Hamilton 1
Game 2 – Sun., May 15 – HOUSTON 3, Hamilton 2
Game 3 – Tue., May 17 – Houston 3, HAMILTON 2
Game 4 – Wed., May 18 – HAMILTON 8, Houston 1
Game 5 – Fri., May 20 – HAMILTON 4, Houston 2
Game 6 – Sun., May 22 – Hamilton at Houston, 5:05
*Game 7 – Tue., May 24 – Hamilton at Houston, 8:05