Aeros Poised to Make History -- The Wrong Kind of History

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Despondent Hackett.JPG
John Royal
A despondent Matt Hackett lies on the ice after Hamilton gets the winning goal in the second overtime.
Only twice in AHL history had a team had to go to a game seven in a playoff series after grabbing a 3-0 series lead. But things change. And when a team from Houston is involved in the playoffs, those things change for the negative as the Aeros stand poised to join the Houston Oilers in the annals of Houston playoff infamy.

After yesterday's 5-4 double-overtime loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Aeros find themselves heading to a game seven tomorrow night in a series that the Aeros had seemingly locked up last week, just like, many years ago, the Oilers seemingly had a playoff game against a team from Buffalo all sewn up.

Hamilton had the momentum coming into yesterday's game six, having demolished the Aeros 8-1 last Wednesday and holding on for the 4-2 game five win on Friday. And not only did Hamilton have the momentum, but the Aeros at times had looked like the team about to be eliminated in the playoffs, not the team in control of their destiny.

But yesterday was different. The Aeros stormed off to the 1-0 lead when Chad Rau scored 3:34 into the game. Hamilton tied it five minutes later when an Aeros player appeared to tip a shot past goalie Matt Hackett. Robbie Earl put the Aeros back up when he scored off a rebound at 4:29 of the second, and the Aeros seemed to be cruising to the championship round of the Calder Cup playoffs.

Then the Bulldogs struck, scoring on the power play to tie it 2-2 at 16:07, then scoring a short-handed goal with 1:23 left in the second to take the lead. Hamilton then took the 4-2 lead just 27 seconds into the third period when they scored another short-handed goal. And just like that, the Aeros, who looked as though they were well on their way to the finals, were struggling to just stay alive.

And with nine minutes remaining, the Aeros were facing sure defeat. Then Nate Prosser scored from the slot to make it 4-3 and with 1:56 left in regulation, Jed Ortmeyer scored to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Aeros dominated the first overtime period, but Hamilton goalie Drew MacIntyre just wouldn't yield, and neither would he yield in the second overtime.

Ortmeyer Jump.JPG
John Royal
Jed Ortmeyer jumps high after tying the game at 4-4.
Instead, it would be Aeros goalie Matt Hackett who would yield at the 9:11 mark of the second overtime, guessing wrong on a two-on-one breakaway that resulted from an Aeros turnover. Nigel Dawes buried the puck, and just like that, the Bulldogs had won the game, the series was tied 3-3, and the Aeros were on the verge of some very negative history.

"I'm not going to sit here and try and paint a pretty picture," head coach Mike Yeo said. "I thought that, the big picture, if we can come to play for the most part, like that, then I really like our chances in game seven. But having said that, obviously we've got to clean up a few things. We've got to make sure we're not turning pucks over against a team that likes to counterattack like that."

It was the turnovers -- coupled with officiating so bad that the AHL should be hanging its head in shame -- that helped to doom the Aeros to the defeat, with several of the Hamilton goals coming off of Aeros turnovers. Still, the Aeros were in the position for the win, and if they had been facing a team with another goaltender, they might have, but MacIntyre, who stopped 57 of the 61 shots he faced on the night, proved once again why he's one of the league's top goalies.

"I give him credit because he looked like he was hunched over his net a few times there," team captain Jon DiSalvatore said after the game. "But he battled, and he made some really big saves for them, and you need that. He was able to keep those guys in the game long enough for them to capitalize on one opportunity."

So on the verge of history the Aeros stand. Rochester in 1960 and Adirondack in 1989 are the only other AHL teams to come back from 3-0 deficits to take a series to a game seven. In both instances, they ended up winning game seven. And with momentum clearly on Hamilton's side, they seem poised to push the Aeros over the brink and out of the playoffs.

The Aeros have the talent to defeat Hamilton. They have the desire. But the AHL history is now on the side of the Bulldogs, but worse, much worse, is Houston sports history. Who else out there remembers all of those big playoff leads that the Houston Oilers made an annual habit of choking away?

This isn't the NFL playoffs. And the Aeros don't receive the attention of the Oilers, but the ghosts of Bud Adams and Jack Pardee and Warren Moon are looking over the Aeros' shoulders and whispering sweet nothings into their ears about the joys of Buffalo and choking up a huge halftime lead to a team being led by a backup quarterback.

That's not company that any team wants to join. Even if it is just the Aeros.

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