John Royal The Aeros celebrate as they take the lead.
A lot can happen in five minutes. Why, in the span of 3:54 in the second period, the Aeros scored three goals to tie the game. But this was going to be different. This wasn't the second period. This was the most important five minutes of the season.
And the unthinkable happened. With just 4:44 remaining in the game, Milwaukee's Chris Mueller got the puck in traffic and tied the game. The game the Aeros had lost, then had won, was now tied and just like that, the Aeros and Admirals were headed to their third straight overtime game, where, for the first time in the playoffs since 2003, the Aeros would lose a game. The final score of this game being 5-4 Milwaukee over Houston.
The game should never have gone to overtime. The Aeros were awful at the start, falling behind 2-0 after one period and 3-0 after four minutes of the second period. They were playing sloppy hockey and making stupid penalties. The Admirals were dominating the flow of the game and Aeros goalie Matt Hackett looked awful, especially after he started to melt down and got into a shoving match with Milwaukee's Roman Josi.
But Mike Yeo called a timeout at the point. And the Aeros were a different team following that timeout, scoring three goals midway in the second to tie the game.
"We gave ourselves a chance," Yeo said of the team's play following the timeout. "We climbed back into the game, but certainly we didn't do enough things to guarantee ourselves a win tonight. Or at least, not guarantee ourselves a win, but give ourselves the best chance to win. Give Milwaukee credit. They played well, but I know for sure we have another level in a number of different areas. There was a drop-off in our game."
Jed Ortmeyer attributed the bad start to all of the guys wanting to be the hero. Which meant they weren't concentrating on the fundamentals of the game and they weren't playing the kind of hockey that got them this deep into the playoffs.
John Royal Jon DiSalvatore reacts to his second-period goal-
But once the Aeros were glued back together, they put on a clinic. Jarod Palmer went on a rush up the ice with the puck and buried it past Milwaukee goalie Jeremy Stevens to make the score 3-1. Just over 30 seconds later, Patrick O'Sullivan set up Max Noreau with a great pass, and Noreau didn't miss, making it 3-2. And at 13:36 of the second, with the Aeros on the power play, O'Sullivan made a fantastic pass to Jon DiSalvatore, who was cutting toward the net, and just like that, it was a tie game.
"Obviously [Yeo] had to call us in there and settle us down," DiSalvatore said. "It was important so we could get to our game. Because we knew that no matter what the score was, that we could generate a lot of opportunities and a lot of chances. The game was never over and we had to stop taking these penalties like the game was over. And we turned it around."
Patrick O'Sullivan put the Aeros up 4-3 midway through the third period, and it looked like the Aeros had the game, and the series, in the bag. Then came the final five minutes and overtime. And this time, in this overtime, the Aeros just didn't seem to have that magic that had helped them win 11 straight overtime games in the playoffs -- a streak dating back to 2003.
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"We didn't play very well till we were down three-nothing," O'Sullivan said. "We took stupid penalties. We knew that they were obviously going to be fighting for their lives. They had a good start and we battled back. I think we played pretty well once we tied it up."
But how the Aeros played once they tied it up doesn't matter. What matters is that, at the end of the game, Milwaukee played better and tied the series at 3-3. The deciding game will be tomorrow night in Milwaukee.
"We're still in the series," Ortmeyer said. "It's even. The pressure's on them. They're the number one seed. They're at home. Other than the first period, we battled back and got ourselves back into the game. We came up a little bit short, but we've tried to take our game to them the last three games or so. The hits and the grinding and the shots on their goalie are going to take its toll. Like I said, the pressure's on them."
The pressure might be on Milwaukee, but if the Aeros play like they did in the first period yesterday, no amount of pressure's going to keep the Admirals from winning the series.