Rickard Wallin tied a career high with four points (1-3=4) and Mikko Koivu collected two goals and an assist, as the Houston Aeros defeated the Utah Grizzlies 5-2 at Toyota Center. Wallin, Kyle Wanvig and Zbynek Michalek each scored on the red hot Houston power play and Josh Harding made 22 saves before being taken to the hospital after a vicious elbow to the head by Jeff Taffe with less than five seconds left.
Harding was diagnosed with a concussion and will undergo further evaluations at the hospital. The game saw an Aeros home record 212 total penalty minutes 94 in the final 4.3 ticks.
With 4.3 seconds left, Taffe ran into Harding from behind and delivered an elbow to the lower part of the goalies head. Erik Reitz came to Hardings aid and pummeled Taffe while emergency technicians attended to Harding. The goalie was helped off the ice in a woozy state, but was later loaded onto a stretcher. Mike Smith finished up.
The teams came to blows again after the final buzzer, racking up 52 penalty minutes including an instigator penalty to Utahs Matthew Spiller.
Houston and Utah dont meet again until February 8 at Toyota Center in the Chronicle in Education Kids Day Game.
I just dont understand, said Aeros head coach Todd McLellan. This is such a great league. Sure theres some emotion in it. There is something about playing this game and having respect for your opponent. You can compete and battle hard, but Josh didnt deserve that. There are great prospects in the AHL that the fans want to see, and he is one of them.
Harding is the No. 1 ranked goalie in the Minnesota Wild organization and was a member of Team Canadas World Junior Team that won the silver medal last winter.
The Aeros snapped a two-game skid, established a new team record for wins in November (eight) and play host to Rochester on Thursday at 7:05 p.m.
Erik Westrum scored two goals and Jean-Marc Pelletier turned aside 26 shots for Utah, which was trying to win back-to-back games for the first time all season. The Grizzlies won 5-3 in Houston on Friday.
Koivu, who missed 12 games after an appendectomy, has seven points (3-4=7) in 10 games since returning. The Aeros went 3-for-6 on the power play, making them 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) with the man advantage in the two-game series. Overall in the last nine game, Houston is 13-for-46 (28.3 percent) on the power play. Utah went 0-for-6 with the man advantage.
The teams were testy Friday night, and the same again Sunday. Less than three minutes in, Aeros heavyweight Derek Boogaard booted Utahs leading penalty minute getter Doug Doull to the ice.
Houston went on top 1-0 at the 6:26 mark on Koivus third of the season. Junior Lessard (two assists) walked through the left circle and fired a soft shot on net through traffic, and Pelletier put a rebound right out in front. Koivu poked it by the netminder.
It took Utah 49 seconds to answer. Jarrod Skalde played the puck off the boards out of his own zone, and Fredrik Sjostrom streaked down the left wing and caught the pass. With two defenders closing in on Sjostrom, he put a shot on Harding, who made the original save, but Westrum was there to put the rebound by him for his third of the season. The goal was the second scored by Utah in the first period this season the first since October 13 versus Cincinnati.
Less than a minute later, Aeros captain Kirby Law (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) duked it out with Utah big man Kiel McLeod (6-foot-6, 233 pounds).
With 7:30 left in the first, Wanvig bidding for his first goal since October 29 rang one off the near post from the right circle. But Wanvig got his revenge on the power play with 5:56 remaining, with his fourth of the season and first in 15 games. Mark Cullen slid a pass into the crease from the corner, and Wanvig, tied up by a Grizzlies defenseman, slid the puck past Pelletier.
Utah tied things back up 48 seconds into the middle period, on a smart play by Westrum. Westrum and Harding both went after the puck behind the Aeros net, and Westrum faked the wraparound attempt, then banked the puck in the net off Hardings skates as he was trying to recover. The goal was Utahs only shot in the opening 8:30 of the second period.
Houston reclaimed the lead at 4:14, with Houston on a five-minute power play after Dustin Wood high sticked Lessard to the ground. John Erskines shot went wide and was collected by Wallin low in the right circle. The Sweden native neatly threaded a pass to Michalek, who rifled one top shelf blocker side for his second of the season.
The Grizzlies got a five-minute power play of their own when Erskine was called for high sticking Skalde at 8:48 of the second. Fifty-three seconds into the man advantage, Houstons Todd Reirden was whistled for cross checking, giving Utah two minutes of a 5-on-3. The Grizzlies didnt manage a shot in the two-man advantage, and Harding made four saves over the rest of the span to ignite the crowd.
After Houston killed off an early power play in the third, Koivus second of the night and fourth of the season at 3:44 pushed the Aeros lead to two. Lessard fed Koivu streaking up the left wing, and the 2001 No. 6 overall pick ripped a shot top shelf over an overmatched Pelletier.
Fisticuffs were the norm midway through the third, with three fights within a 31-second span, including Boogaards second versus Doull. Both were given game misconducts for the fight, which happened after Dan Cavanaugh and Jakub Koreis battled.
Houstons third power play goal of the night came with 7:32 left, just after Koivu hit the outside of the net in an attempt for the hat trick. The rebound came to Law, who fed Wallin at the right doorstep. Wallin one-timed the puck past Pelletier for his third of the season.
Stephane Veilleux assisted on Wanvigs goal, putting him at 99 career points, one shy of becoming the 19th player in team history to hit the century mark. Cullen, who reached the mark with two goals and an assist Friday, is now tied with Michael Maurice for 15th on the all-time list with 102 points.
Lessard notched his first pro multiple-point game with Dallas Stars coach and former Aeros head man Dave Tippett at press row.
Houston (12-9-1-1) has won 12 of its first 23 games for the fifth time in team history. In two of the previous four occasions, the Aeros have claimed the playoff championship.
Wallin previously had four points (2-2=4) November 22, 2002, at Cleveland.