Friday night, the Binghamton Senators and the Houston Aeros squared off in a pivotal Game Four of the 2011 Calder Cup Finals. The Senators entered the game down 2-1 in the series, but they bounced back nicely in Game Four, shutting out the Aeros 3-0 to even the series at two games apiece.
After falling short in the postseason each of the last several seasons, the Aeros finally got back to the Calder Cup Finals this year, and they are looking to win their second AHL title (their first came in 2003, when they defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs in seven games). En route to making the finals this year, the Aeros defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Western Conference Finals. That series also went the full seven games.
The Senators came out of the starting gate early with the home fans at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena providing the extra momentum. In the opening three minutes, Binghamton was rolling all four offensive lines on the ice and took an early 6-1 shot advantage with several “Grade A” opportunities. The strategy was to send to guys down low, cycle the puck, feed it to the point, get shots on net and drive for rebounds.
Into the middle minutes of the period, Binghamton continued to sustain a consistent offensive pressure. With 8:12 left in the opening stanza, Cody Bass scored on a wrap around attempt for the Sens. The tally came on the twelfth shot of the duel for Bingo, as Greening danced around the net to stuff a shot short side that Bass soon deflected.
With 3:52 remaining in the first period, the Senators possessed a 5-on-3 power play for 1:14 due to back-to-back hooking infractions. Corey Locke would score against his former team before time expired on the two-man advantage to give Binghamton a 2-0 lead.
It would be the final tally for either side in the first frame with Binghamton dominating play from start to finish. Binghamton was dominating play with a 17-8 advantage in shots on goal after one period.
To start the middle 20 minutes, both Houston and Binghamton took the foot off the gas pedal, and began a dump and chase strategy from center ice. At the midway point of regulation, the Senators would have an opportunity to lead by a field goal for the first time in the Calder Cup Finals. Justin Falk of Houston would be sent to the box for a four minute high-sticking minor. The Red Army fired another five shots on Aeros’ netminder Matt Hackett but failed to tally.
The B-Sens would take what is known as “the worst lead in hockey” into the locker room after two periods. The Senators would add ten shots, five being on the power play in the middle frame and lead the Aeros 27-16 overall in shots.
Houston did not take advantage of a late period opportunity to cut the Bingo lead in half. With 3:59 remaining, the Sens’ Eric Gryba was whistled for a questionable tripping infraction. The call would give Houston a late-period power play in which they could not capitalize. The Aeros on the foiled chance fell to 0-for-3 on the man advantage. After two periods in game four, the Aeros struggles on the power play would continue, being 1-for-13 in the series against the Senators.
Immediately out of the starting gate in the third, the Sens would make the Aeros pay for the missed scoring chances. They added to their two goal lead when Derek Smith scored his first of the postseason 2:19 into the stanza. For the first time in the 2011 Calder Cup Finals, a team led by a commanding three goals.
The Senators would carry the 3-0 lead to the final horn, sending the Binghamton fans into a veritable frenzy. Their victory evened the series at two games apiece, and it will take a minimum of six games to decide the victor. Now, their best-of-seven series has evolved into a best-of-three, with only two victories needed to capture the Calder Cup.
Winning head coach Kurt Kleinendorst voiced his satisfaction following the game: ”Tonight, it was just a step in the right direction and one thing we want to do is get better in every single game.”
Binghamton’s biggest challenge awaits them Game 5 on Saturday. Going into Game 4 it was the B-Sens with the motivation looking to bounce back with a desperation win. Saturday puts Houston in the same position the Sens were in when they woke up the previous morning.