The Houston Aeros were playing their fourth game in six nights -- their third game in four nights -- and they were a tired team. For some teams, that's a bad thing.
But the Aeros aren't most teams. Kevin Constantine-coached teams play better when they're tired. And last night, a tired Aeros team got the 2-1 overtime win over the San Antonio Rampage for their third straight win.
"The nice part is that they found a way to win," Constantine said after the game. "To me, we had the look in the first period, the look of a tired team."
But tired Constantine teams find ways to win, and after a 0-0 first period tie which saw the Aeros get out-shot by the Rampage, the Aeros regrouped in the locker room and came out for the second period a somewhat different team. The Aeros had a good second period, which is that one period in which they've struggled the entire season -- especially against San Antonio -- and took the 1-0 lead at 9:34 when Nathan Smith fed Colton Gillies who stuffed the puck into the net.
"It's definitely nice to get the monkey off the back a little bit," Gillies said about his first goal since Opening Night. "The coach said, just stick with it, I'm doing everything right. I've been working hard in practice and doing all of those extra things with the hope that I might get one, which I did, so it was good."
That lead held for most of the game as back-up goalie Wade Dubielewicz held San Antonio without a goal until 10:01 of the third period when Matt Watkins got a turnover and fed the puck to Mikkel Boedker who was standing in front of the Aeros net. Boedker got the puck past Dubielewicz to tie the score.
The game went into overtime, and it appeared to be heading for the shootout when Chad Rau found Max Noreau storming onto the ice and fed him the puck. Noreau advanced on the net and went top shelf to win the game with 36 seconds remaining on the clock.
"Rau made a good play and came out of the corner," Noreau said. "I think I'd just stepped on the ice, so I was just trying to find some open ice and help him out and maybe make it an easy pass for him...the goalie went down pretty early. I'm just glad we got the two points."
The win, coupled with Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Texas Stars, allowed the Aeros to move into sole possession of fourth place in the AHL's West Division with a record of 15-12-2-1 (33 points). They're tied, points wise, with the Rockford IceHogs, but they have the lead based on percentage points.
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The Aeros also gained on the three teams in front of them. The win was also their third straight win. The Aeros have won three straight on several occasions this year, but being a team teetering around the break-even point, they've always gone on a losing streak after that.
The losing streak is something Noreau doesn't want the team repeating. "At this point in the season, especially with Christmas break coming up, that's a huge motivation for the guys," Noreau said about keeping the winning streak going. "We've only got two games left, so just get it everything we got and make it five in a row, and then once we get back, guys are going to be fresh from coming home for the holidays, and we just take it from there."
The Aeros next play on Friday when the Stars come in from Austin. The Stars are the number-one team in the division, but for the most part, the Aeros have been able to stay with Texas this season, and a win against the Stars, then another against Grand Rapids on Sunday afternoon, could set the Aeros up for a nice run in the second half of the season.
And I'm sure that, if the Aeros were asked, they'd all say that all they want for Christmas is a nice run in the second half. Especially because a nice run in the second half could help set the team up for a run in the playoffs.