Before yesterday's Game Three against the Milwaukee Admirals, Houston Aeros coach Kevin Constantine wanted his team to focus less on what the Admirals were doing and to focus more on their own play. He wasn't entirely happy with how his team ended up handling themselves for the entirety of the game, but he was willing to deal with that because the Aeros came together in the third period, played their style of play, and got the 3-1 win in front of a Toyota Center crowd of 3,047.
The win put them up 2-1 in the seven-game series.
The Aeros grabbed the early, first-period lead when at 5:41 Krys Kolanos softly lifted the puck over the leg pads of Milwaukee goalie Drew MacIntyre and deposited it into the net. And despite facing a barrage of shots in the second period, Aeros goalie Anton Khudobin was nearly perfect, giving up just one goal at the 18:25 mark and giving Milwaukee the 1-1 tie going into the third period.
The team came out in the third, playing the kind of game that Constantine wants. Simple play, sticking to the fundamentals, and playing within the system. And after Milwaukee was hit with two penalties to put the Aeros on the five-on-three power play, and 5:14 of the third, Max Noreau's shot glanced off of the pads of Aeros forward Matt Beaudoin and flew past Milwaukee's MacIntyre to put the Aeros up 2-1.
"My job there is to stay in front [of the goalie]," Beaudoin told Hair Balls. "That's been my role since I've been here. I've been fortunate enough a couple of times to have it hit my pads and it goes in. I'm just trying to get the goalie's eyes out of the way. And the puck just went off my pads and it went right in."
There were still fifteen minutes left in the game, and Milwaukee tried to go on the attack, but the Aeros defense toughened up, and at 18:09 Corey Locke buried a beautiful shot to make the score 3-1 and seal the win.
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"I feel good, you know," Anton Khudobin said after the game. "We won. But the series is not over yet. So we just won the second game. But we still have to win two more."
"They're going to counterpunch pretty hard now in Game Four," Constantine said. "So we're going to have to be ready for that."
But for now, the Aeros can breathe a little easier and marvel that they have won six playoff games despite being outshot by the competition in nearly every game. The team has relied on a stifling penalty kill, allowing Peoria and Milwaukee to score just five times on a total of 53 power plays. And despite just becoming the number-one goalie toward the end of March, Anton Khudobin has grown into his role as the starter, and in 10 playoff games he has stopped 242 of 265 shots while playing all but 26 of a possible 612 playoff minutes.
The series resumes with Game Four at Toyota Center on Thursday night. Game Five will be in Toyota Center on Saturday night, and Games Six and Seven will be in Milwaukee (if necessary) next Monday and Wednesday.