John Royal Jared Spurgeon briefly gives the Aeros something to celebrate.
The Houston Aeros had plenty of chances to make things right last night. The problem was they gave more chances to the Admirals, and the Admirals capitalized on those chances, time and time again. The result was a 5-3 Milwaukee win in this second-round playoff game. A win giving the Admirals the 2-1 series lead and a win which negated the good the Aeros did in getting the win on Sunday to even the series and give them home ice advantage.
Aeros coach Mike Yeo was not very pleased with his players afterwards, speaking of a feeling of doom he'd had since practice in the morning and which had been reinforced by the team's play during the game.
"I'm not real happy with you, to be honest with you," he said. "Not just the outcome. But even our overall approach to the game. I kind of warned us against it this morning."
The Aeros who played last night looked nothing like the team that won the most games of any team in the Western Conference during the regular season. And they didn't approach the look of the team that swept the Peoria Rivermen in the first round of the playoffs.
They were sloppy with the puck, turning it over constantly. They made bad penalties, and instead of playing their game, instead of trying to wear down the Admirals and dominate the final period, the Aeros appeared to be making more of an effort to play to the refs in hopes they might get some calls.
"We had a lot of guys who weren't really willing to compete and battle the right way tonight," Yeo said.
The Aeros dominated the first half of the first period, taking the 1-0 lead. But the Admirals tied the game late in the first period when the Aeros appeared to fall asleep on the penalty kill and just let Milwaukee get off a great shot that not only tied the game, but sapped the Aeros of confidence on the ice.
John Royal The on-ice officials conferred with the goal judge before overturning a no-goal call.
The Admirals dominated the second period, scoring twice as the Aeros were unable to do anything right. There were multiple turnovers and defenders out of position. Milwaukee had the opportunities, and they took advantage of those opportunities. The Aeros appeared a bit sharper in the third period, but by then the damage was done. Marco Scandella scored eight minutes into the third to make the score 3-2, but the Admirals scored just over a minute later off a turnover to make it 4-2. Then the Aeros got the golden opportunity, that one thing that should have shifted all momentum to the Aeros.
It all started with what appeared to be Jarod Palmer scoring a goal to make it 4-3 with about ten minutes left in the game. But the refs called no goal, despite the Aeros going into full-on celebration mode with all of the bells and whistles going off in the arena and a replay clearing showing a goal. When there was a stoppage in play about a minute later, all of the officials gathered, conferred, spoke to the goal judge, then awarded the Aeros with the goal.
But just like that, 30 seconds later, Milwaukee scored again, making it 5-3, and the Aeros, already playing like a defeated team, played the remainder of the game waiting for the clock to hit 00:00 so they could return to the locker room and lick their wounds. Wounds that an angry Mike Yeo wasn't going to let heal quickly, or easily.
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Yeo promised last week that the lineup that swept Peoria would not be the same lineup that faced Milwaukee. And he made changes, inserting NHL vet Marco Scandella and rookie Brett Bulmer into the lineup. But after what he saw last night, Yeo stated that there might be more roster changes come game four on Thursday.
"Certainly there were some players tonight that were below average. A number of them," he said. "We have to make sure we walk the line of not letting our emotions get the best of us as far as one game, but we also have to -- there's an accountability to your teammates and making sure that guys are doing the right thing, so we will look at all options."
The Houston Aeros are a good hockey team. They're a talented hockey team. They've got the talent and ability to win playoff games and get to the championship. The Aeros didn't play like that team last night. They're only down 2-1, and this is a best four-of-seven series.
It's definitely not time to panic. But if they don't get their act together on Thursday, it may be too late to panic come game five on Friday night.