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HOCKEY

Bulldogs beat Aeros 4-2 at Copps before series returns to Houston

HAMILTON - Ryan Russell's short-handed goal stood up as the winner as the Hamilton Bulldogs continued to claw their way back into the American Hockey League Western Conference final with a 4-2 win over the Houston Aeros on Friday.

The Bulldogs, who looked down and out facing a 3-0 series deficit, have mounted back-to-back wins to keep their Calder Cup hopes alive.

It gets tougher from here for the Bulldogs. To complete the comeback, Hamilton will have to overcome their road woes and win a pair in Houston. The Bulldogs are 1-7 away from Copps Coliseum in the post-season, including three losses in Houston to begin the West final.

Game 6 is Sunday.

Paul Zanette, Aaron Palushaj and Andrew Conboy, into an empty net, also scored for Hamilton.

Jean-Michel Daoust and Jed Ortmeyer replied for Houston.

Emotions boiled after the final whistle when Cody Almond cross checked Ryan White at the end of regulation. Conboy responded, fighting Jarod Palmer with no time left on the clock.

Drew MacIntyre made 31 saves for the Bulldogs, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Hackett turned away 26 for Houston, which is affiliated with the Minnesota Wild.

Zanette opened the scoring at 8:18 of the first period. He got credit for a goal after kicking the puck to the front of the net. Hamilton's Dany Masse missed the puck, but it went in off of Houston defenceman Drew Bagnall's foot.

Palushaj made it 2-0 Hamilton on a power play, circling out into the high slot and firing one over the pad of a screened Hackett.

Daoust got Houston on the board at 5:04 of the second period with a goal MacIntyre would like to have back. Driving from the corner, Daoust brushed the puck off of MacIntyre's shoulder and in on the short side, finding a hole from a bad angle.

The goal gave the Astros some much-needed life after playing 25 minutes of hockey on their heels. Houston took it to the Bulldogs, taking 17 shots in the second period. MacIntyre needed to stand tall for Hamilton to carry the lead into the third.

Russell's short-handed goal at 8:22 of the third gave Hamilton a 3-1 lead. In a play identical to his goal in Game 4's 8-1 lop-sided win, Russell received a Ryan White pass in his skate, kicked it up to his stick and beat Hackett over his blocker side.

Houston pulled to within a goal 1:40 later. Robbie Earl threw the puck at the net from the sideboards with two Aeros alone in front MacIntyre, and Ortmeyer knocked in the rebound.

Conboy's empty-netter secured the flight to Houston.

A crowd of 4,234, the largest crowd for Hamilton in this year's playoffs, took in the game.

The winner moves on to face the Binghamton Senators, who swept the Charlotte Checkers in the East final.