Credit the American Hockey League schedule makers for finally getting one right, having Milwaukee and Houston face off for the final time of season on Friday night, with the road to first place in the Western Conference paved in gold for the winner.
But more props to the Admirals for bringing their steamrollers for work on that road, even if took Milwaukee 20 minutes to rev them up. The Admirals scored four goals in the second period for a come from behind and statement win 5-2 over the Aeros.
However, Milwaukee coach Lane Lambert would prefer his team stay humble about the victory:
Seven minutes into the hockey game, Gabriel Bourque got the Admirals cooking with an even strength goal off a rebound from Ryan Thang’s original shot. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Bourque’s tally was sandwiched between a pair of Houston power play markers. Jarod Palmer scored first, then Jon DiSavatore potted his 27th goal of season–and 13th on the man advantage–to make it 2-1 Aeros in dominating fashion after the first period (Houston out-shot Milwaukee 15-6 after 20 minutes).
Much like the Aeros recent leads in the standings, their advantage would not last long. Milwaukee responded with perhaps their best period of season, scoring four unanswered goals to grab a 5-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Chris Mueller got the Admirals party started with a 5-on-3 power play goal five minutes into the second period to tie game. Mark Van Guilder chipped in 10th goal of the season one and half minutes later, still on the power play from the second penalty call of the 5-on-3. It was a little redemption for Van Guilder, who thought he scored three and half minutes earlier but was robbed by an early whistle (More terrible non-goal calls to come).
With Milwaukee leading 3-2, the Admirals pressed for more and got rewarded with a pair of goals during the 15th minute of second period.
At 15:16, Mueller, planted on the doorstep, got his second goal of the night by chipping home a rebound off of Aaron Johnson’s initial shot. After Mueller’s goal, Hackett suffered a total breakdown, taking a four minute minor for roughing (not sure why one of the calls wasn’t a slash) at 15:43 while attacking freshly-minted Admiral Austin Watson. Five seconds later Teemu Laakso let go a blast that beat Hackett clean and ended the Aeros starter’s night. Milwaukee, out-shooting Houston 14-4 in second period, took a 5-2 lead after 40 minutes.
The third period proved rather uneventful with the exception of several minor scrums and a ridiculous non-goal call on a would-be Andreas Thuresson tally. On a wrap around, Thuresson clearly tucked a puck beyond the goal line and behind Houston’s reliever netminder Josh Tordjman. Despite the official having a clear look at the play, and the red light being emphatically on, the goal call was missed and the goal judge was never consulted.
FURTHER GAME NOTES:
Kelsey Wilson left the game during his first shift with an dreaded “lower body” injury and did not return. Wilson is looking at MRI tomorrow to find out the extent of the issue. Too bad it had to happen on the night that Wilson became the Admirals all-time leader in AHL games played at 294.
Jeremy Smith improved to 15-6-2 in the Admirals net, stopping 22 of 24 shots for the win. Smith wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t need to be on a night where Milwaukee’s defense was stout for the final 40 minutes.
Milwaukee’s power play was clicking against the Aeros going 3-for-8 in the game. Meanwhile, the Admirals’ penalty kill allowed two goals on just four man advantage chances, but that discussion is for another day.
Tonight was the AHL debut games for Watson and Chris Cahill. Both made great first impressions on their new coach:
In front of 7,379 fans at the Bradley Center, Milwaukee moves up to 98 points for a four-point top spot advantage in the West Division. The Admirals are now a virtual lock to win the division and the Western Conference.
Needless to say, the game of the year for Milwaukee did not disappoint.
So Roundtable, while you celebrate the win, here are some questions to ponder:
Mueller was awesome tonight. Is it safe to say that he has become the team’s unofficial heart and soul?
What did you think of a new guys? Watson drove Houston (especially Hackett) crazy all night, while former Yale standout Cahill was an impressive physical presence and fit right in.
Though he returned against San Antonio, are you happy to see a healthy Steve Begin back and wrecking havoc on the ice?
Has there been a better period for the Admirals than tonight’s second 20 minutes against Houston?
How about Milwaukee’s formerly dormant power play? Seems like the special teams are getting better in every game as of late.
Are you getting sick of AHL non-goals? Thuresson’s was ridiculous, and that was SECOND missed goal of the night for Milwaukee.
Do you have your Western Conference champagne bottle uncorked or are you going to wait until the Admirals wrap things up before enjoying this win?