B-Sens one win away from claiming first Calder Cup
Standout goaltending by Lehner, two goals from Zack Smith sink Aeros in home finale
Zack Smith scored twice and Robin Lehner made 41 saves as the B-Sens moved to within one victory of their first Calder Cup championship with a 4-2 win over the Houston Aeros on Saturday night.
The B-Sens take a 3-2 series lead back to Houston, with two chances at Toyota Center to capture the city of Binghamton’s first championship in 29 years of AHL participation. Game 6 is set for Tuesday night (8:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200).
"We didn't want to leave here down three games to two," said Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst said. "We have been a good road team all year, but they've been a good home team all year. They've been a very good home team in the playoffs. We all know that the fourth one is always the hardest one to get. If we battled a wounded animal tonight, which I think we did, they're going to feel like their backs are really against the wall on Tuesday.
"We're going to have to find a way to come out and be very, very good."
Attendance for Binghamton's final home game of the 2010-11 season was 4,727 – above capacity at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. And the B-Sens sent them all home in a joyous mood with a gritty victory, then saluted the faithful by raising their sticks toward the fans in appreciation for the support they've received en route to this moment.
The scoring opened at 9:19 of the first period during 4-on-4 play, as Andre Benoit collected the puck on the left wing, moved down low and hit Corey Locke with a perfect back-door pass.
It was the fourth time in five games of the series that the B-Sens scored first.
Houston’s fourth line got the Aeros on the board at 11:08 when Jean-Michel Daoust knocked the puck past Lehner to tie the score at 1-1. It was the first goal allowed by Lehner in 97:09 of work.
The Senators went back in front just 69 seconds later, however, as Erik Condra blocked a Houston shot, took off on a breakaway and scored his first goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs.
"I blocked a shot, and luckily it bounced to the right spot for me," said Condra. "I brought it to my backhand and (it) kind of went five-hole when he opened up. It slid in slowly. I wasn't sure it was going to cross the line, but it did."
As the opening frame wound down, Lehner made a sprawling pad save on Jarod Palmer, but moments later Daoust parked himself on the doorstep and tipped home a pass from Marco Scandella, tying the game with 6.3 seconds remaining before intermission.
Houston controlled play for much of the second period, which was scoreless until Zack Smith banged home a bouncing puck during a power play with 8.5 seconds left in the frame. The Senators took a 3-2 lead into the locker room after 40 minutes despite being outshot by a 29-19 margin at that point.
"That was a big one," said Smith. "Houston carried most of the momentum in the second, and it was good to get that one and have something positive to go into the third with. It was kind of a scrambly play. It wasn't the prettiest, but it got it done."
The Aeros continued to press for the tie in the third period, but the B-Sens got some much-needed breathing room when Smith netted his second of the night with just 4:04 to play.
Houston finished the night with a 43-27 edge in shots. The Senators were 1-for-4 on the power play; the Aeros were 0-for-4.
"The best teams find ways to win no matter what happens," said Condra. "Whether it's Robin Lehner making a million saves, or somebody chipping in a goal that bounces off three guys — whatever it takes, championship teams find a way to win."
Both teams played most of the game with just five defencemen, as Houston lost Jared Spurgeon and Binghamton saw Jared Cowen depart early on with what Kleinendorst called a "vicious" play. His status for Game 6 is yet to be determined.
— Files from AHL.com contributed to this report