The Aeros were struggling badly coming into this weekend. With the playoffs on the line, they had suddenly forgotten how to score, and with injuries to their top goalies, the team was having trouble stopping the puck.
The Aeros lost 3-2 to the San Antonio Rampage in overtime on Friday night, but amazingly, the loss was good enough to get the team into the playoffs as they netted a point with the overtime loss, and they only needed one point to guarantee the spot.
But they weren't happy. Or rather, star forward Krys Kolanos wasn't happy. "We've got high expectations. We wanted to win that game," he told Hair Balls. "It's a big rivalry for us. But nonetheless, we did get a key point, and we accomplished what we set out to do."
That the Aeros were able to get this point on Friday was due to the play of Kolanos who had just returned to Houston from a stint with the parent club Minnesota Wild. He made two incredible goals, including the game tying goal with 51 seconds remaining in regulation play.
Still, the Aeros lost that game. They lost again to San Antonio, in San Antonio, on Saturday night by a score of 4-2. So coming into yesterday's regular season-ending game, the Aeros were just 2-6-1-1 for their last 10 games. And that's not exactly the kind of momentum one wants going into the playoffs.
So yesterday's 6-4 win over the San Antonio Rampage did more than give the Aeros a win to end the season, it lifted the team's spirits.
"For our psyche, it was definitely important to get a win," said defenseman Brandon Rogers. "It's kind of nice to have a positive."
And once again, the person responsible for this positive was Kolanos. Though the team got six goals, the driving force wasKolanos with three goals, getting the first Aeros hat trick in Toyota Center since Matt Foy got three against San Antonio on November 24, 2006.
With the 6-4 win, the Aeros finished the season with a record of 38-31-2-9 (87 points). And Kolanos, who, due to multiple call-ups to the Wild was around for only 45 of the 80 games, finished the season with 51 points on 31 goals and 20 assists. And during his stints with Houston, the Aeros were 24-13-2-6. It would have been interesting to see what the team could do if he had been able to play with them all season.
As it is, he will be with the team throughout the playoffs.
"It's definitely nice to have a scoring punch you count on," Rogers said of Kolanos. "Obviously last year we didn't have that. We struggled to score in the playoffs. This year we don't have that problem so it's all going to come down playing team defense and everybody committing to keeping the puck out of our net because we know if we have the chance we'll score."
The playoffs for the Aeros begin on Wednesday night when they will the face the Peoria Rivermen in the first game of a best of seven series.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS PLAYOFF NOTES:
The playoffs begin in Peoria on Wednesday night, and game two will be in Peoria on Friday night. Games three through five are to be played in Houston, but the dates of those games may not be known until the middle of this week as the Aeros are dependent on Toyota Center's primary tenant, the Houston Rockets, telling them what days they can have the arena. And the Rockets won't know until all of the playoff matchups and dates have been set by the NBA. If necessary, games six and seven will be in Peoria on Saturday April 25 and Monday April 27.
The Aeros are not heading into the playoffs as a healthy team. The team has been besieged by injuries at the goalie position, but last week, it appeared that number one goalie Nolan Schaefer and his back-up Barry Brust would both be healthy for the start of the playoffs. Then Brust returned to action on Friday night for the first time in about a month, only to suffer another injury during the third period. He is definitely out for the first round.
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Nolan Schaefer suffered an injury several weeks ago. The initial diagnosis was that he would miss seven-to-ten days. Those seven-to-ten days passed this weekend, and he was still unable to play.
As to Schaefer returning for Wednesday's game, head coach Kevin Constantine is hopeful. "We hope that," Constantine said. 'We just don't know. It's still a day-by-day thing....we really, really don't know."
The goaltending duties are currently being handled by Anton Khudobin, who spent most of the season in the ECHL. He's been beat up a bit in the games he played for the Aeros this season, but Brandon Rogers blames that on the play of himself and his fellow defensemen. "We have complete faith in him or Schaefer, whoever's going to be in there," Rogers said. "Anton's come in and played great for us, he's had some defensive breakdowns in front of him that have cost him some goals and even wins."
Will the momentum of yesterday's win carry over to the playoffs? Will Nolan Schaefer will be able to return to his position in the net? Those answers won't be known until Wednesday. But the spirits in the locker room were high, and the guys say they're ready. So tune in Wednesday night for the answer.