John Royal Robbie Earl and Casey Wellman celebrate Wellman's game-winning goal.
Then out the pack broke Casey Wellman, streaking up the side of the ice toward the Milwaukee goal. Robbie Earl trailed him slightly, coming up the middle of the ice. From nowhere Wellman had gotten hold of the puck, and he wasn't going to be stopped. Not this time, not like minutes earlier where he'd had the same opportunity but had put his shot into goalie Jeremy Smith's stomach.
This time Wellman got off the perfect shot. This time Jeremy Smith wasn't going to make the stop. This time Wellman was scoring. And just like that, with 1:21 remaining in the game, the Aeros were up 3-2 and the celebrating on the Houston bench was beginning.
Twenty seconds later, Warren Peters got the puck for the Aeros and buried it in the empty net to make the score 4-2. And just like that, the Aeros had won game seven of this second-round playoff match. Just like that the celebration was in full swing.
"I took a quick look, saw Robbie [Earl] coming with me," Wellman told Hair Balls in the Bradley Center locker room after the game. "I wanted to make sure I got a shot at the net this time. I actually just had like that same opportunity like a few minutes before that, and I had put it in a bad spot, right in the goalie's chest. So I wanted to make sure I really put in the corner this time."
It was a tough game for the Aeros, another tough game in a tough seven-game series that saw three games go into overtime. Milwaukee took the early lead in the game, scoring at 8:02 into the first. But fortunately for the Aeros, the Admirals had been robbed minutes earlier when a sure goal by defenseman Roman Josi was nullified by referee Terry Koharski.
John Royal The Aeros celebrate their playoff series victory.
"It was a good forecheck," Gillies said of the sequence leading to the goal. "That's what our line takes pride in. We got the puck in deep, and we controlled the puck and made some good plays. The puck went back to the d-men and Spurgeon just shot it right on my stick. He made it real easy for me. I was battling for position in front of the net. Yeah, he just made it easy for me. He put in on my backhand, the goalie was out of position and I was able to jam it home."
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The score stayed tied at 1-1 through the second period, but at the 3:18 mark of the third period, Carson McMillan took advantage of Milwaukee goalie Jeremy Smith trying to play the puck behind the net, got the turnover and buried the puck to put Houston up 2-1. Milwaukee tied the game five minutes later, and with two minutes remaining, it appeared that this game was heading to another overtime. Then came Casey Wellman and his little streak up the ice for the game-winner.
"I think I still had my eyes closed from the shift that was going on before that, and still holding my breath from the fact that the puck didn't wind up in our net," head coach Mike Yeo said. "That's the kind of series that it's been. I think both teams have such a great defensive game that sometimes you can get caught trying to score so hard -- trying so hard to score -- that quite often that's when the other team ends up getting their chances."
And the Aeros took their chance, Wellman scored, and the Aeros were the winners.
Next up for the Aeros are the Hamilton Bulldogs as they play for the championship of the AHL's Western Conference. Game one is Friday night at Toyota Center, and game two is at Toyota Center on Sunday afternoon. But for now, the Aeros are going to celebrate, having vanquished another foe in their quest for the AHL's Calder Cup.