John Royal One of the few times the Aeros attacked the opposing goalie on Friday night.
The season was not over, though. There was still at least one game to be played. The Aeros would face the Barons in a do-or-die game on Sunday evening. Win and the Aeros would live to play again. Lose, and the season was over. And frankly, the thoughts of the Aeros finding a way to win game three just appeared to be astronomical.
But behind backup goalie Mike Brodeur, the seventh different goalie to start a game for the Aeros this season, the Aeros found a way to survive. They got the 1-0 win, despite being outshot once again by the Barons. They found a way to win despite, once again, the almost complete absence of any offensive effort.
The win last night can, in some small way, be traced back to Friday's loss. The Aeros did, after all, find a way to score in that game, and the effort level, which had been nonexistent on Thursday night (except for Hackett, who was bombarded with over a shot a minute before suffering the injury he appeared to further aggravate on Friday night), was there. And the tandem responsible for the goal on Friday night, Cody Almond assisted by Brett Bulmer, were the ones responsible for the lone goal last night, this time with Bulmer getting the goal with the assists to Almond and linemate Nick Palmieri.
"It's nice to finally get one in," Almond said of his goal on Friday night. "We have our backs against the wall right now. We've got to play even more desperate. I'm sure we'll make some adjustments and be ready for the next game."
And it appeared that the Aeros were more desperate. The level of their play last night ratcheted up from where it was in games one and two. Perhaps the Aeros finally caught that same need to actually show up and play like Hackett, who was visibly upset with the lack of effort from his teammates as he exited the game on Thursday. Perhaps they dug down deep and dug out some remaining level of pride, refusing to be embarrassed one final time this season.
John Royal Aeros trainer Jody Green works on an injured Matt Hackett on Friday night.
"They have some good older guys who have won championships, and they definitely dialed it up," Almond said Friday. "I think we have to do the same and match their effort."
So the Aeros live to fight another day, with game four being in Oklahoma City tomorrow night. But the Aeros need to be careful in how they approach the game. The talk from some members of the team and staff was about just how happy they were to have made the playoffs. It wasn't about what comes next, and the feeling that comes from a playoff series win, it was about the happiness and relief that came from making the postseason. And if last week's first two games showed anything, just being satisfied to be there isn't good enough.
The Aeros are a beat-up team. The team's top offensive players have been shut down, and the defense has struggled to prevent the Barons from attacking the offensive zone and putting shots on the net. If not for the heroic efforts of Hackett and Brodeur on Thursday and Friday, the Aeros would have been embarrassed more than they were. And if not for the play of Brodeur last night, the Aeros would not be playing a game tomorrow night.
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The season's not over for the Aeros. They finally found a way to generate a goal, and the goaltending was stupendous once again. But for the Aeros to make it to the next round, hell, for the Aeros to make it to a game five, it's going to take more than just a goalie and two offensive players to show up. The entire team's going to have to put forth an effort.
Otherwise they'll just have to be satisfied with eking out one win in this year's playoffs.