History will be made. If you have been watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, no doubt you’ve read this line numerous times by now. Tonight, at 8:05 p.m. at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, history could actually be made as the Hamilton Bulldogs look to complete the comeback against the Houston Aeros in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Western Conference Finals.
In 75 years of AHL action, only twice have teams come back from a 3-0 deficit to force a game seven. Both times, the Rochester Americans in 1960 and the Adirondack Red Wings in 1989, the team forcing the game also won. However, both times, the winning team was also at home for that pivotal game.
How did it get to this?
The Aeros won the first three games of this series by a combined three goals. Goaltender Matt Hackett stopped 38 of 39 Bulldogs’ shots in game one at home, giving up the lone Bulldogs’ goal with less than a minute left in regulation. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon notched two assists in game two to help the Aeros to the 3-2 victory. Captain Jon DiSalvatore pushed the Bulldogs to the brink at the Copps Coliseum in game three with a pair of goals in another 3-2 win.
With nothing to lose in game four, the Bulldogs threw everything at the Aeros and found the twine behind Hackett three times in the first period. Center Dustin Boyd picked up two goals and two assists while winger Aaron Palushaj added a goal and an assist to help the Bulldogs to an 8-1 victory. Drew MacIntyre made just 14 saves to get the win.
MacIntyre was challenged more in game five, seeing 33 Aeros’ shots, but with the home crowd behind him, he managed to stop 31 of them. Center Ryan White picked up a pair of assists, including one on assistant captain Ryan Russell’s game-winner at 8:22 of the third period while short-handed.
On Sunday, in game six, the Bulldogs jumped ahead, 3-2, heading into the final 20 minutes and looked poised to force game seven after center Andreas Engqvist notched his second of the night short-handed just 27 seconds into the third period. However, goals from defenseman Nate Prosser and winger Jed Ortmeyer tied the game for the Aeros, who fired 19 shots at MacIntyre in the period. The first overtime was played evenly, as was the second until Bulldogs forward Nigel Dawes, who is third in playoff scoring, found daylight behind Hackett to force game seven.
In order for the Aeros, who have the advantage of being on home ice, to avoid heading into the history books as the first team to surrender a 3-0 series lead and then lose the series at home, they will have to get to MacIntyre early and often. The Bulldogs love to fire large volumes of shots at opposing goalies, but have struggled in games where they are outshot. The Aeros will also need a better effort from DiSalvatore, who continues to limp through the Calder Cup Playoffs with just four goals and eight points in 17 games.