Houston Aeros (4-3) vs.
Milwaukee Admirals (7-3), 7:35 p.m.
Game 4, West Division Final (MIL leads 3-0)
. The Josh Harding
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Houston is in the post-season for the 11th time in its 12 seasons after recording its third 50-win season in team history. The Aeros finished 50-24-3-3 - the fifth-best record in the AHL - while Milwaukee was 49-21-6-4. The Admirals edged the Aeros by two points for first place in the West, and ultimately, home ice advantage in this best-of-seven West Division Final series. Houston and Milwaukee were first and second in the West Division, in one way or the other, every day since 12/9. The Aeros are 9-5 all-time in seven-game playoff series.
Houston is 9-8 all-time in the playoffs when facing elimination, but it has dropped its only elimination game in each of the last two seasons. Chicago snapped a tie in the closing minutes for a 5-3 victory in Game 5 last season at Toyota Center. The Aeros’ last elimination game victory was Game 7 of the 2003 Calder Cup Finals, a 3-0 win at Hamilton. Houston does, however, have D Curtis Murphy on its side. A three-time pro champ since 2001, including two Calder Cup titles, Murphy’s teams (in North America) are 13-3 all-time when facing elimination, including wins in their last four games. Murphy was also a member of the 1999 Orlando Solar Bears team that rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to beat Detroit to advance to the International Hockey League’s Turner Cup Finals, where the Solar Bears lost to the Aeros in seven games. Milwaukee, meanwhile, is just 1-5 over the last two seasons when having a chance to eliminate an opponent. The Admirals lost a 3-1 series lead last season against Cincinnati, and they needed seven games against Iowa this season after taking a 3-1 series advantage.
The Aeros swept Peoria in four games in their West Division Semifinal series. AHL teams sweeping a best-of-seven series have lost their next series the last six occasions, and 10 of 11 times since 1999-2000. The lone team to win the next series after a sweep was Bridgeport in 2001-02. Hershey, however, is poised to defeat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with a 3-0 series lead. Meanwhile, since 2001-02, a team winning Game 7 - like Milwaukee - has gone on to win the next series six of the nine times.
Houston and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which also trails Hershey 3-0, are the 99th and 100th teams in AHL history to fall down 3-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series. Of the previous 98, 64 have lost Game 4 for a clean sweep, 23 have made it to Game 5, nine to Game 6 and two to Game 7. Both of the teams to push the series to a seventh game won - Rochester defeated Cleveland in the 1960 league semifinal, while Adirondack beat Hershey in the 1989 Southern Division Final. Already this season, Providence stormed back to force a sixth game against Portland before succumbing.
The Aeros need a victory tonight to keep the series going, and to avoid becoming just the fourth team in AHL history to get swept in a best-of-seven series immediately following a sweep of their own in a best-of-seven series. It happened to Chicago last season; after beating Manitoba in four games to advance to the Calder Cup Finals, the Wolves fell in four games to Philadelphia. Before that, it hadn’t occurred since 1985, when Binghamton defeated Springfield and lost to Baltimore. The only other occasion was all the way back in 1961, when Hershey knocked off Buffalo in four games, and then dropped a four-game set to Baltimore.
Special teams dominated Milwaukee’s 7-4 victory in Game 3 on Sunday. The Admirals scored three SHG - a franchise playoff record against Houston - while also tallying three times on the man advantage. Milwaukee scored just a single 5-on-5 goal - by LW Scottie Upshall midway through the second period. Houston allowed a team playoff record 11 power plays to Milwaukee, which is scorching hot with the man advantage against the Admirals. In the last four meetings, the Admirals are 11-for-35 (31.4 percent) with the man advantage versus the Aeros. What makes that so amazing is the fact Milwaukee went six straight games without a PPG against the Aeros before their last regular-season meeting.
Through the first three games of the post-season, Houston had outscored its opponent (Peoria) 9-2 after the second intermission. But since Game 4 of the series with the Rivermen, when the teams each scored two third-period goals, the Aeros have been outscored 8-4 in the third. Houston is tied for third in the post-season in third period goals with 11, but it has allowed 10 - third-worst in the league. But Milwaukee has both scored the most (13) and allowed the most (13), setting up a possible frantic ending tonight.
Aeros.com will also have updates throughout the game.
Seven things you need to know
Admirals at Aeros (Aeros are 33-36-7-2 all-time, Aeros are 18-16-4-1 at Houston)
The teams split eight regular season meetings, although the Aeros (4-3-0-1) technically out-pointed the Admirals (4-4-0-0) by virtue of one of Milwaukee’s wins coming in a shootout. Houston won three of the last four meetings, including a two-game series sweep in Milwaukee 2/25-2/26.
Since winning 5-1 at Milwaukee 10/17/03, the Aeros are 7-16-2-2 in the last 27 regular season meetings overall.
LW Patrick O’Sullivan (7-2=9), RW Kirby Law (3-6=9) and C Erik Westrum (0-6=6) combined for 24 points (10-14=24) in just eight regular season games against Milwaukee this season, but they have put up just two points (O’Sullivan goal, Westrum assist) in this series.
2005-06 meetings (Aeros went 4-3-0-1 overall, Aeros went 2-2-0-0 at Milwaukee)
October 28 Houston 1 at Milwaukee 6
November 25 Milwaukee 0 at Houston 3
November 27 Milwaukee 3 at Houston 0
February 4 Milwaukee 6 at Houston 5 (SO)
February 7 Milwaukee 2 at Houston 3
February 25 Houston 3 at Milwaukee 0
February 26 Houston 5 at Milwaukee 2
March 17 Houston 3 at Milwaukee 4
Scouting the Aeros
The Aeros (50-24-3-3) finished second in the West Division with 106 points and swept Peoria in four games in the West Division Semifinals...RW Kirby Law paced the AHL in scoring with a team-record 110 points (43-67=110), 12 points up on Aeros C Erik Westrum (34-64=98) for the top spot in the AHL...LW Patrick O’Sullivan finished first among rookies and fifth overall with 93 points (47-46=93)...LW Roman Voloshenko (33-27=60) was third in goals among rookies and tied for ninth in points...D Curtis Murphy finished second among AHL defensemen with a new career-best 67 points (14-53=67)...G Josh Harding went 29-8-0 with a 2.68 gaa with the Aeros this season, ranking fourth in the league in wins and tied for first in save pct. (.922) despite missing nearly three months due to call-ups and injuries...G Seamus Kotyk went 15-15-2 with a 3.03 gaa.
Scouting the Admirals
Milwaukee (49-21-6-4), AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators, won the West Division with 108 points - two more than the Aeros...RW Darren Haydar ranked fifth in the AHL in scoring with 92 points (35-57=92)...LW Libor Pivko was second on the Admirals roster with 70 points (12-58=70)...D Kevin Klein paces the blueline with 42 points (10-32=42)... The Admirals got RW Jordin Tootoo (41gp, 13-14=27) back from Nashville in time for Game 7 of the division semifinals against Iowa, and he’s been joined by LW Scottie Upshall (23gp, 17-16=33), D Shea Weber (46gp, 12-15=27) and All-Star G Pekka Rinne (30-18-2, 2.82 gaa)...G Brian Finley went 18-7-2 with a 2.70 gaa during the regular season, but got hurt prior to Game 6 against Iowa...G Jake Moreland, making just his second career AHL start, backstopped the ads to a Game 7 victory.
The Aeros were an AHL-best plus-31 (89-58) in the first period of the regular season. But they have been outscored 8-4 in the post-season, including 4-0 the last two games. Houston scored first in each of its first four games - all victories - but has allowed the first goal in each game of this series. The Aeros are 0-6 in the last three post-seasons when not scoring first.
Milwaukee has scored at least one goal in each of the nine periods of this series. Amazingly, the Admirals have scored two or more goals in six of the last seven periods.
Only three times in franchise history have the Aeros dropped four straight post-season games, a feat they are trying to avoid tonight. Houston lost its last four games of a five-game series against Long Beach in the 1997 conference finals, a six-game series against Chicago in the 2000 conference finals, and a five-game set to the Wolves in the 2002 conference finals.
Houston has allowed 19 goals in the first three games of this series, tying the most goals ever allowed in three straight playoff games. The Aeros yielded 19 total goals in their first three post-season games, against Phoenix in 1995. Houston allowed 22 goals in that series, the most ever for the franchise in four consecutive games.
The Aeros are 52-9-0-2 when scoring three goals or more, but they are 2-20-3-1 when scoring two or fewer. Three is also the magic number defensively, as Houston is 43-6-3-1 when allowing three of fewer goals and 11-21-0-2 when yielding four or more.
Aeros veteran D Curtis Murphy didn’t have a two-goal game in the first 75 contests of 2005-06, but he has a pair of two-goal, one-assist efforts in the last two weeks of the regular season. Murphy, who finished second in the league in scoring among defenseman with a career-best 67 points (14-53=67), had been held without a goal in 17 straight games before he scored twice 4/9 against San Antonio. Since early March, Murphy has raised helped raise $3,200 for “Murphy’s Mission”, benefiting “I Have a Dream”. In post-season home games, an anonymous local donor is giving $1,000 per Murphy goal and $200 per assist to the cause. A Murphy hat trick at home will net $10,000, and a Calder Cup title will give $10,000 in honor of the entire Aeros team to “I Have a Dream”.
The Watson Family Foundation has announced three charity-driven programs for the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs: “Saves: Saving Lives”, “All-Stars for All-Stars” and “Rookies for Ronald”. “Saves: Saving Lives” will benefit Boys & Girls Country. The Watsons will make a donation of $10 for every save made by an Aeros goalie in the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs. The donation is up to $2,160 after seven games. “All-Stars for All-Stars” will aid After School All Stars. The Watsons will give $50 per goal and $50 per assist garnered by each of the Aeros three First Team All-Stars – Kirby Law, Erik Westrum and Curtis Murphy. The assist donation is provided the player assists on a fellow All-Stars goal. The program has raised $500 thus far. Ronald McDonald House Houston is the beneficiary for “Rookies for Ronald”. Ronald McDonald House will receive $50 per goal scored by a rookie, or an assist on another rookie’s goal, in the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs. That program has raised $450.
Entering the post-season, 12 Aeros have played a total of 190 Calder Cup Playoffs games, led by D Curtis Murphy (59) and RW Kirby Law (40). Just five have season action in the post-season with the Aeros, including Murphy (37) and D Erik Reitz (13), each members of the Aeros’ 2003 Calder Cup championship team. Murphy also owns a 2004 Calder Cup with Milwaukee, and a 2001 IHL Turner Cup with Orlando. D Scott Ferguson has played in 11 Stanley Cup Playoffs games, the lone Aero to see action in the NHL post-season. Ferguson was a Calder Cup Finalist in 1997, when his Hamilton team lost to Hershey.
Aeros D Curtis Murphy has won 14 of the last 15 post-seasons series in North America in which he has participated. The lone loss was with the Aeros in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, a five-game loss to Chicago.
Houston has trailed at some point in 23 of its 54 victories, with eight of the wins coming when trailing by two goals. The Aeros had 16 come-from-behind victories in 2004-05. They are an impressive 18-18-1-0 when allowing the game’s first goal.
Three Aeros are quite familiar with their opponent. D Curtis Murphy was a member of Milwaukee’s Calder Cup championship team in 2003-04. C Bryan Lundbohm spent most of four seasons with the Admirals, from 2001-05. He was injured when Milwaukee won the Calder Cup in 2003-04. G Seamus Kotyk went 10-6-1 with a 2.95 gaa in 23 games with Milwaukee in 2004-05.
Power play update
Houston finished the regular season tied for second in the league, with Peoria and Milwaukee, on the power play at 20.0 percent.
Houston is 8-for-49 (16.3 percent) on the power play in the post-season, but just 3-for-21 (14.3 percent) in this series.
The Aeros are 27-9-0-1 when scoring at least two PPG.
Milwaukee was 13th in the AHL on the penalty kill at 83.0 percent.
The Admirals ranked just 11th of 16 teams on the penalty kill in the division semifinals, killing off 36-of-44 shorthanded chances (81.8 percent), but they are 18-of-21 (85.7 percent) on the kill in this series.
Houston is 12-for-85 (14.1 percent) with the man advantage against Milwaukee, scoring two PPG in five of the 11 meetings.
Penalty kill update
Houston tied for eighth in the AHL on the penalty kill in the regular season at 83.4 percent.
The Aeros ranked second in the league in the division semifinals, killing off 24-of-27 (88.9 percent) shorthanded chances. But they have allowed seven goals on 23 chances in this series for just a 69.6 percent kill rate.
Houston is 26-6-1-3 when not allowing a power play goal and 42-14-3-2 when allowing one power play goal or fewer.
Milwaukee tied for second in the AHL, with Houston and Peoria, on the power play at 20.0 percent.
The Admirals ranked fourth in the league in division semifinal play at 18.9 percent (7-for-37), but they are a whopping 7-for-23 (30.4 percent) in this series.
Milwaukee is 13-for-76 (17.1 percent) with the man advantage against Houston, counting the post-season. In the last four meetings, the Admirals are a whopping 11-for-35 (31.4 percent) with the man advantage versus the Aeros.