Friday night, the Houston Aeros had the opportunity to take a commanding three games against one lead in the Calder Cup Finals. The Binghamton Senators had other ideas as they stormed out of the gate and tallied twice in the opening stanza. A 21-save shutout performance by Robin Lehner knotted the series at two games apiece entering Saturday.
Going into Saturday with the series tied, Game Fiveive was the start to what essentially has become a best-of-three series between Binghamton and Houston. The B-Sens came out on top, 4-2, and now they head to Houston with two opportunities to be crowned 2011 Calder Cup Champions.
Despite the outcome, the Sens’ win on Saturday was the final hockey game of the season in Binghamton, New York. The series now heads back to the Toyota Center in Houston with the Red Army leading, 3-2.
It was the Senators’ job to carry over any excess momentum from the previous game. Seven minutes in, there were only five shots between the two teams. Binghamton owned three of the five shots, with two coming on an early man advantage.
Midway through the opening period, Patrick O’Sullivan for Houston and Zack Smith for Binghamton headed off for matching minors. In the 4-on-4, the B-Sens would take advantage of the open ice. Corey Locke tipped in a perfect cross-ice feed from Andre Benoit to give the Sens an early 1-0 lead.
Just over two minutes later, Houston answered back and scored a goal for their first time since Game Three. Jean-Michel Daoust rapidly walked in front of the net and stuffed a quick shot short side on Lehner. The tie, however, would only last for 1:09. Erik Condra of Binghamton walked in all alone on Matt Hackett after an offensive zone turnover by Houston. Condra put a fancy backhand move on Hackett and snuck it low past him.
Penalties for Binghamton piled up towards the end of the stanza, leading to constant control in the offensive zone for Houston. With 6.3 seconds remaining before the horn sounded for the first intermission, Daoust tallied for Houston to tie the game at 2-2.
The goal came only one second after all the Binghamton penalties expired, dropping the Aeros to only 1-for-15 on the power play in the series.
With Houston having the late period scoring chances, they led in shots 16-11 after the opening frame.
Both the Senators and the Aeros picked up the physical play, from the puck dropping to start the second period straight through to the end. Unfortunately for Houston, it would come back to hurt them. 5:45 into the second stanza, Jared Spurgeon crashed violently into the boards and injured his knee; he did not return for the remainder of the game.
With 6:23 left on the second period game clock, the Senators got an opportunity on the power play. Houston’s Colton Gillies was sent to the sin bin for a defensive zone boarding call, which gave the B-Sens a golden opportunity to retake the lead. But the Senators failed to fire a single shot on net during the man advantage.
The Sens got a second chance on the power play and an opportunity to retake the lead with only one minute remaining in the second period. Once again, it was Gillies sent off to the penalty box. This time, Binghamton capitalized, when Zack Smith tallied with only 8.5 seconds left in the middle period on a scrum in front of Hackett. It gave Binghamton a 3-2 lead after two period, and they hoped they could hold the lead and preserve what would be a 3-2 series lead.
Late-period goals are always a confidence sinker for any given team who gives it up. But for Houston, it was even more critical in this particular situation. Despite not scoring in the middle period, it was nothing but dominance from the Aeros, and yet they found themselves behind in the game.
It was the first time since Wednesday that Houston dominated any period in the Finals. To not score and head to the final period in regulation tied was bad enough for Houston’s momentum and confidence. But going into the third period down a goal after giving up a tally on a bouncing puck late in the second period made them even more desperate.
In front of a crowd of 4,727, the Sens looked to close out the game and their season at home with a win. Binghamton played with a kill-the-clock mentality and ate up puck possession any time they could. Houston head coach Mike Yeo burned his lone time out in the second period following an icing call.
Towards the latter minutes of the game, the desperation and frustration level became clear for the Aeros. They began rushing outlet passes from the defensive end to offensive end. It would lead to turnovers, where the B-Sens would simply receive the puck, dump it and change players. It allowed the Sens’ lines to play with short shifts, keeping all players fresh.
With 4:04 left in the game clock, Zack Smith scored again for Binghamton to seal the deal for good and take the majority of the weight off the rest of his teammate’s shoulders. Soon afterwards, Matt Hackett headed to the bench for an extra attacker for Houston, but the B-Sens hung on to win by a final score of 4-2.
With the win, the Senators head back to Houston for game six, up 3-2 in the Calder Cup Finals, and they are now only one win away from winning the franchise’s first Calder Cup. It is now easily forgotten the Sens made the playoffs grabbing the final spot due to a new rule enhanced by the AHL two seasons ago. Without the new crossover rule, Binghamton would have missed the postseason.
The Binghamton Senators will have their first opportunity to hoist Calder on Tuesday night. The Sens take on the Houston Aeros in game six, needing one victory to drink from the Cup. Luckily for Bingo, their record on the road this postseason is 9-2.
Game Six will be played at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday night.