From: Ryan Stanzel
Director of Communications
Friday, April 15, 2005
713.361.7930 (Direct Line) Aeros 5, Wolves 2Official Box Score
Mike Smith celebrated his own bobblehead night by making 36 saves and notching two assists, Brent Burns scored twice in the third period, and Mark Cullen returned from a 15-game absence to tally a goal and an assist, as the Houston Aeros clinched a playoff berth and a 40-win season with a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Wolves in front of 7,824 at Toyota Center. Ray Giroux and Kyle Wanvig also scored and Smith was perfect in the third period with 17 saves for Houston, which has 91 points two better than Cincinnati for third place in the West Division.
Cincinnati, which has two games left to Houstons one, plays Milwaukee on Saturday and hosts fifth-place Grand Rapids on Sunday. The Griffins earned a 4-3 home win over the Ducks tonight to stave off playoff elimination and climb within three points of Cincinnati. The top four teams in the West qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Colin Stuart and J.P. Vigier each scored and Michael Garnett finished with 26 saves for the first-place Wolves, whose lead in the West remained at two points over Milwaukee, a 4-1 home loser to last-place Utah. The Admirals have two games left and Chicago one. The Wolves could have clinched the top seed out of the West with a win tonight, and they can do it with a victory over the Grizzlies at home Saturday.
Houston plays host to Utah in its regular-season finale Sunday at 5:05 p.m. on Fan Appreciation Night. The Aeros can secure a third-place finish by beating the Grizzlies, and Cincinnati failing to sweep its final two games.
Stuart got things going 9:38 in with his third goal of the season but second against the Aeros. Derek MacKenzie carried the puck behind the net to the right corner and slid a pass between defenders to an unmarked Stuart, who slammed the puck top shelf.
Cullen, who last played March 14, answered back with his 10th goal only 37 seconds later. Smith left a pass for Patrick Traverse at the side of the net, and the defenseman sent a 90-foot headman pass to Cullen, behind the defense at center ice. Cullen raced in on Garnett, faked a backhand and went back to the forehand, slipping the puck near post by Garnett.
Giroux put the Aeros ahead at 13:04 of the first, as Cullen sprung the defenseman on a 2-on-1 with heavyweight Derek Boogaard. Giroux waited for a defenseman to slide, and his shot deflected off the fallen Wolf and over Garnett for his 13th goal of the season.
Houston continued to pressure the Wolves, outshooting them 17-8 in the second, but it was Chicago that had the best chances, and tied things up headed to the third.
MacKenzie hit the pipe on a shorthanded attempt for the Wolves with 6:45 left in the middle period. Chicagos best chance earned another post with 3:00 remaining, as former Aero Cory Larose broke in along the right wing and snapped a shot off the post.
Vigiers team-best 29th goal knotted things up at 2-2 with 34 seconds left in the second. Smith made a pad save on Braydon Coburns attempt from the left point, but Vigier hopped on the rebound in the low left circle and rifled a quick shot by a diving Smith from a bad angle.
What could have been a deflating goal wasnt, as Burns scored only 31 seconds into the third. Rickard Wallin, at the right point, fed a streaking Burns in the left circle. Burns, at the edge of the circle, unleashed a high shot over Garnetts glove for his 10th goal of the season first since March 3.
The teams collected at center ice 2:44 into the third, after Smith went down behind his own net after Houstons Burns inadvertently hit Smith in the neck with his stick. Only Boogaard picked up a penalty on the fracas, giving Chicago a power play.
After Houston killed off that man advantage, Wanvigs 12th goal added some insurance. Smith sent a pass off the left wing boards at center ice to Matt Foy, who raced in and slid a pass over a diving defender to Wanvig at the right doorstep. Wanvig poked the puck by Garnett.
Smiths two helpers give him four for the season just one shy of the Aeros all-time team record of five, set by Frederic Chabot. No Aero netminder had ever had more than two assists in one season, and hes the first with two in a game.
Chicago actually dominated the third period with a 17-5 shot advantage, but Smith was perfect. The Aeros had two shots on goal in the opening 14 minutes of the third and scored on both of them.
With 1:24 left in the third and the Aeros shorthanded, Todd Reirden slid a flying puck up the right side boards to Burns, who banked the puck into an empty net off the boards along the Aeros bench, securing a playoff birth for the Aeros.
Each team finished 0-for-5 on the power play.
The Aeros scratched Joey Tetarenko, Erik Reitz, Ryan Stokes, Stephane Veilleux, Patrick Traverse, Christoph Brandner, Marius Holtet and John Erskine.
Former Aeros defenseman Travis Roche was scratched for the second straight night.
The Aeros have won five straight at home and are 6-0-0-1 in their last seven.
Burns has scored four of his 11 goals, and two of his three game-winners, versus Chicago. His other game-winning tally came January 29, late in regulation in a 3-2 come-from-behind win.
The teams, who may meet in the West Division Semifinals, split the season series with 12 points.
The Aeros improved to 14-24-4-4 when allowing the first goal.
Smith is 4-0-0 in his last four home decisions.