"I'm proud of our guys," a tired Kevin Constantine said from his office Saturday night. "It was a travel day from hell. I've never been part of that. Something that crazy travelwise, and still played a game. I couldn't imagine a more adverse condition to put a team under than that. And the guys they hung in there. I didn't hear them complain or moan. They just kind of came to the rink and said let's do this."
The Houston Aeros have had some tough travel situations this season, often flying into a city on the day of game. On Friday night, the Aeros defeated the Peoria Rivermen 2-0 to tie their playoff series at one game apiece.
The Rivermen had some different travel arrangements and flew to Houston from St. Louis on Saturday morning. On Saturday morning, the Aeros bused to Chicago, and boarded a flight to Houston that ended up in New Orleans because the weather was too dangerous for the plane to fly to Houston.
Saturday's game was scheduled for Toyota Center at 7:35. The Peoria Rivermen were in the city, and they were ready to play. The Houston Aeros were sitting in the New Orleans airport waiting for the weather to clear enough so that the plane could get to Houston.
The Aeros finally arrived in Houston at about 5:30. They finally arrived at Toyota Center at about 7:00. And the game finally started at about 8:25. And amazingly, seeing as how they spent the entire day on airplanes and in airports and on buses, it was the Houston Aeros who dominated play during the game.
Goalie Anton Khudobin, who had been beaten up to end the regular season, and who gave up six goals in the Game One 6-4 loss, was keeping the puck out of the net. The Aeros defense was swarming Peoria, not letting them get off good shots. But nearly halfway into the second period, it was looking as that wouldn't be good enough since the Aeros just couldn't find a way to get the puck into the net.
Then at 8:58 of the second period Peoria's Junas Junland was sent to the penalty box. And that's when Corey Locke and Krys Kolanos went to work. Fifteen seconds later, Kolanos found himself alone by the blue line.
He fired the puck down toward the Peoria goal, and Peoria goalie Manny Legace moved into position to block the shot. But Kolanos angled the shot so that it wasn't directly at the goal. Instead, Corey Locke had snuck up behind Legace and had a wide open net in which to deflect the puck and put the Aeros up 1-0.
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Peoria tied the score at 1-1 early in the third period, but once again, Locke and Kolanos went to work on the power play. At 10:02 of the third, five seconds into a power play, Kolanos and Locke pulled off the exact same play to put the Aeros up 2-1 and throw the crowd of 4,092 into a frenzy.
"We've had a pretty brutal schedule [this season]," Locke said. "I hate to say it, but we might have been used to this stuff a little bit more. We knew that we had to come and do a job no matter what happened, and that's what we did tonight."
The Aeros got the 2-1 win despite their toughest travel day of the season, and despite arriving at the arena hours after they were supposed to have gotten to Houston. And with the 2-1 win, the Aeros now have the 2-1 series lead and the momentum.
Game Four of the series is tonight at Toyota Center, and Game Five is at Toyota Center on Wednesday night. If needed, Games Six and Seven will be in Peoria on Saturday and next Sunday.