Aeros 3, Griffins 2: Westrum scores twice, Harding makes 39 saves
Official Box Score
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Erik Westrum scored a pair of 5-on-3 goals, Curtis Murphy notched his second career three-assist game and Josh Harding made 39 saves, as the Houston Aeros knocked the Grand Rapids Griffins from the land of the unbeatens, 3-2, at Van Andel Arena. Rookie Patrick O’Sullivan’s first pro goal went down as the game-winner and Kurtis Foster chipped in two helpers for the Aeros (3-1-0-0), who have won three of their first four games for just the third time in team history. In both of the previous seasons (1998-99, 2002-03), Houston won the league title.
Jiri Hudler, who leads the AHL in scoring with 10 points, tallied a goal and an assist for Grand Rapids (3-1-0-0), which got another goal from Brett Lebda and 25 stops from Drew MacIntyre.
The Aeros finish off their five-game road trip with 7 p.m. contests in Omaha Tuesday and Thursday. They return home Friday at 7:35 p.m. against the Griffins, with the first 5,000 fans receiving "A Winning Tradition" posters.
Harding, who made a career-high 47 saves in Friday’s 3-1 win at Peoria, stopped 12 shots in the first period, 17 in the second and 10 in the third. The second-year pro improved to 4-2-1 in his career against the Griffins, with a stingy 1.53 gaa and a .947 save pct.
Harding was a big reason the Aeros killed off their first 10 shorthanded chances, including three lengthy 5-on-3’s. Grand Rapids, which entered the game a league-best 6-for-16 on the man advantage, finished 1-for-13 on the power play, while Houston got only six chances, scoring twice.
Westrum, meanwhile, is the lone Aero with a point in each of the first four games. He has nine overall (4-5=9), one off Hudler’s league lead. Westrum, who scored the game-winner Friday in Peoria with 47 seconds remaining, notched his 10th career two-goal game. It took him only 4:39 to get the Aeros on top in this one.
Houston got 1:26 of a 5-on-3 leading to Westrum’s tally. Foster took a pass from Murphy at the point and ripped a shot on MacIntyre. The goalie stopped the shot but left a rebound at the side of the net, and Westrum popped it into the net.
Houston’s Mark Rooneem broke in alone on MacIntyre midway through the period, but the goalie barely deflected it over the crossbar with his glove.
Grand Rapids had nearly a minute of a 5-on-3 later in the period, but couldn’t solve Harding. Before the second penalty expired, Houston was in the box again and the Griffins got another 20 seconds of a 5-on-3.
Early in the second, Harding turned the puck over but recovered in time to stone Tomas Kopecky from close range.
But off the ensuing faceoff, Grand Rapids tied it up at 3:47 on Hudler’s league-leading sixth goal in four games. Greg Amadio launched a shot from the point, and Hudler, in traffic in front of Harding, tipped it up and over the goalie.
Hudler’s goal was just the second 5-on-5 goal allowed by the Aeros in four games.
Harding was the hero again midway through the period, as the Griffins went on a two-man advantage for 1:52. Grand Rapids had trouble getting a shot against the pesky Aeros penalty killers, but Harding stopped Eric Himelfarb’s point blank shot late in the advantage.
Westrum scored on a carbon copy of his first goal with 3:57 left in the second, with Houston again on a 5-on-3. Foster let a boomer go from the point, and MacIntyre made the pad save. Westrum poked the rebound by the goalie for his fourth of the season.
With MacIntyre off for the extra attacker in a delayed penalty early in the third, Nate DiCasmirro rang a shot off the post.
Seconds after that Grand Rapids power play expired, O’Sullivan’s rising wrister on a nice feed from Murphy put Houston up two at 5:08.
The Griffins came right back 2:06 later after a holding penalty to Ryan Stokes. Lebda, who started the season in the NHL with Detroit, roofed a Hudler feed over Harding for his second goal.
Grand Rapids got four shots in the final 90 seconds with MacIntyre off for the extra attacker, but Harding was too good. The Griffins were credited with their 13th and final power play with five seconds left when Dustin Wood was whistled for interference, but they couldn’t get a clean shot off.
- The Aeros scratched Seamus Kotyk, Chris Heid, Anders Myrvold and Adam Courchaine.
- Houston was also without its two newest players. Eight-year NHL veteran Rem Murray signed a pro tryout. Murray hasn’t played since January 2004 due to a nerve disorder in his neck. He was one of the final cuts at Detroit Red Wings camp this season. Also, the Aeros received center Petr Taticek, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, on loan from the Florida Panthers. Both players are expected to join the Aeros by the time they hit Omaha Tuesday.
- Murphy’s three assists give him 69 in an Aeros uniform, into 14th place on the team’s all-time list. His 105 points move him into sole possession of 20th on the Aeros’ ledger, one behind Dan Cavanaugh for 19th.
- Westrum’s nine points tie him with three others for the most in Aeros history after four games. The other three - David Oliver, Brian Wiseman and Cam Stewart - each accomplished the feat in the 1998-99 Turner Cup season.
- Seven of the last nine meetings over the last two seasons have been decided by one goal.
- Westrum has seven goals in nine career games versus Grand Rapids.
- Murphy’s other three-assist game came February 23, 2002, with the Aeros in Cincinnati. Tonight marked his eighth career three-point game, and first since the aforementioned game against the Ducks.
- Foster notched his eighth career two-assist game, with two of the eight coming this season.
- O’Sullivan, who made his season debut last night due to injury, led the Aeros with eight shots.