“When someone wins four, it’s over,” Houston Aeros coach Kevin Constantine said last night following Houston’s 2-1 loss to the Rockford IceHogs. “It’s not over because no one’s won four. So we’ll go battle tomorrow night and see what happens.”
The Rockford IceHogs have not won four games. Not yet. But they’re up three games to one and the Houston Aeros are down to one last chance. It’s win tonight, or the season is done. But unlike Tuesday night, where Constantine felt the Aeros didn’t play with intensity, last night they came out skating hard, hitting hard, and shooting the puck. But then again, so did Rockford.
And for 52 minutes and 49 seconds, Rockford goalie Corey Crawford and Houston goalie Nolan Schaefer were perfect. Every shot they faced, they blocked. Slap shots. Wrist shots. Wraparounds, rebounds. It didn’t matter. They would stop the shot.
With time clicking down on the clock, it was pretty evident that the first team to score a goal was going to win the game. Unfortunately, that was Rockford as right wing Petri Kontiola fired a laser past Schaefer to put the IceHogs up 1-0 at 12:49 in the third period. And before the crowd, or the Aeros could recover, the IceHogs scored another goal, slipping the puck past Schaefer at 13:31 of the third for the 2-0 lead.
“I actually saved the shot, [but] I think he might have kicked it in,” Schaefer said after the game. “But that what it’s like in the AHL because there’s no replay.”
The Aeros didn’t give up, and as they have many times this year, they kicked their game into a different gear when playing from behind, but even after center Marco Rosa pulled off a pretty shot at 16:02 to make the score 2-1, the Aeros just didn’t couldn’t catch up.
“We’re working hard, but sometimes we’re not working smart, and that’ll kill you in the playoffs,” Rosa said. And Constantine pointed to Rockford’s first goal as a play where the team wasn’t working smart, saying that the defensemen were out of position.
When asked his assessment of the team’s performance, Rosa answered that “we’re just not putting 60 minutes together. And in the playoffs you can’t do that.”
But, dejected as he was, Rosa is not giving up hope: “There’s another game left. We win tomorrow and take it back to Rockford and go from there.”
The Aeros and IceHogs will meet up at Toyota Center again tonight with the puck drop set for 7:35. Hopefully, with Rockford up 3-1 in the series, Game Five will have a better resolution. And hopefully, the people who run the Toyota Center will get their butts in gear and do something about the pitiful condition of the ice.
SOME MISCEALLNEOUS GAME NOTES:
Except for Game One where the final score was 3-1, every game has been decided by one goal. And every game has been tied at the halfway point of the third period. The Aeros went 111:01 between their first period goal on Tuesday night and their third period goal last night.
When asked the difference between Rockford and Houston’s play for the series, Constantine laughed momentarily before answering: “One goal. I hate to sound simple or silly, but all of the games have been close, all of the games have been hard fought, and it’s all come down to the third period, and we’ve just got to find a way to make a difference somewhere along the way. The games are tight. It’s playoff hockey.”
******************* As you might remember, I complained a bit about the lousy ice conditions on Tuesday night. I stupidly thought that with a full day between games, and no events scheduled in that off time, that the people running the Toyota Center might do something to help the ice.
I was wrong.
From what I understand, while they kept the ice chilled, they decided to shut off the air conditioning on Wednesday, allowing the heat to build in the arena. Frozen ice doesn’t mean much when the air temperature is in the 80s, allowing humidity to build over the ice.
It was uncomfortable in the concourses last night, and it was uncomfortable in the seats. I usually walk the concourse between periods, and last night I heard several fans complaining not only about the ice, but about the temperature in the seats.
And besides fan comfort, a properly refrigerated ice surface and chilled arena make for a better game of hockey. “Tonight I really noticed for the first time the amount times the puck bounced,” Kevin Constantine said after the game. “The ice isn’t real good right now. It’s hot in the building. Anytime you have that you’re not going to have quite as good as ice, quite as good of puck movement. And even that’s contributing to the low scoring. It’s just a little hard to make offensive plays when your ice is like that.”
Nolan Schaefer also told us after the game that it’s really uncomfortable on the ice.
I have no idea what the Minnesota Wild is paying Les Alexander for rent and utilities, but the Wild should really be demanding a refund right now. There’s no way he would let his team play a game under the conditions the Aeros are playing, and there’s no reason he should be allowing the Aeros to play under these conditions.
******************** But the ice isn’t the only problem. Referee David Banfield has clearly been overmatched in this series. At one point last night, right wing Joel Ward was literally tackled right in front of Banfield, yet there was no whistle. But he’s not only missing calls against the Aeros. At one point Aeros defenseman Erik Reitz tripped one of the IceHogs right in front of Banfield, and once again, no whistle was blown. You would think that for the playoffs the AHL would send their best officials. Obviously, they didn’t feel a need to do it for this series.
******************** Among all of my complaints, I’ve got to issue a thank you to the Aeros sound crew. For months I’ve been saying that, if the Aeros want to get the crowd pumped up, they need to play Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up.” And last night, going into a power play, they did. And the crowd did get loud and excited. I should also point out that for the first time in weeks, they trotted out “Man In A Box” when a player was sent to the penalty box – and they played the uncensored version.
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However, once again, the attendance was only 2,552. Just where in the hell are you people? The Astros are out of town. The Rockets weren’t set to play until about the time the Aeros game was over. So where is everybody? They got around 9,000 people there on a night to see the Hanson Brothers. Is coming to a game to see some guys from a movie really that much more important than going to a playoff game?
Once again, though, those of you who were there were loud and excited.
You’ve got another chance tonight. Game Five starts at 7:35.
Before I go, I would like to thank Fred Trask for the use of his photo. – John Royal