HOUSTON - The Hamilton Bulldogs weren't happy with how they started their series with the Houston Aeros, but the club now has a chance join some select company.
Nigel Dawes scored twice, including the winner at 9:11 of double overtime, as the Bulldogs beat the Aeros 5-4 on Sunday to tie the American Hockey League's Western Conference final 3-3.
The Bulldogs are just the third team in AHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7, which goes Tuesday in Houston.
Hamilton has history on its side. The only two clubs to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0 also won the series — the 1960 Rochester Americans and the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings.
"It shows the will of the players and commitment we have made," Hamilton coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "It's part of the process. These guys have earned it. We blame ourselves for the start to the series, but they have certainly turned it full circle, and we want to finish it the right way."
Dawes scored the winner off a cross-ice pass from Aaron Palushaj after a turnover at the Houston blue-line.
"Aaron made a great pass," Dawes said. "There are no easy goals, especially with the way that the ice causes it to bounce, but I just put it in after getting the great pass."
Andreas Engqvist also had two goals for Hamilton, while Dustin Boyd added a goal and an assist.
"It's a great feeling," Engqvist said of forcing Game 7. "We had three pretty good games until now, and we have one more to go. That's what we are aiming for."
Frederic St. Denis added two assists for the Bulldogs, who got 57 saves from Drew MacIntyre.
Nate Prosser, Robbie Earl, Chad Rau and Jed Ortmeyer had the goals for Houston. Colton Gillies and Warren Peters each had two assists. Matt Hackett made 33 saves in defeat.
Engqvist gave Hamilton, the Montreal Canadiens' AHL affiliate, a 4-2 lead just 27 seconds into the third period on a short-handed goal. He stole the puck in the Hamilton zone and broke away before faking to the left and going right to beat Hackett.
The Aeros, the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, cut the lead to 4-3 on a Prosser one timer off a pass from Gillies at 11:02.
Ortmeyer then knotted the score at 18:04 in the third after he knocked a rebound past MacIntyre.
"They took it to us, but the beauty about hockey is that you have to get one more," Dawes said of blowing the 4-2 lead. "They tied it up, so good for them. You have to give them credit, but we battled back hard in overtime. We're able to find a way, and I think it's deservedly so."
Dawes, who now has 14 goals in the playoffs, gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead at 18:37 of the second with the teams playing 4-on-4. Dawes gained possession of the puck in the Aeros' zone and had a clear path to the net before firing his own rebound past Hackett.
After Rau and Engqvist traded goals in the first, Houston took a 2-1 lead at 4:29 in the second after Earl deflected Marco Scandella's shot past MacIntyre.
Hamilton tied things 2-2 on Boyd's power-play goal at 16:07. With Gillies in the penalty box for slashing, St. Denis' shot trickled through the Aeros defence, where Boyd gained possession just outside of the crease and fired it behind Hackett.
The Bulldogs were 1-for-5 on the power play, while Houston was 1-for-7. Both teams had chances with the man advantage in overtime.
"That was a difficult game, and there were some circumstances where we had to be good on special teams," Cunneyworth said. "It was a couple of shifts there where we got into trouble in our own end and couldn't find a way out.
"(Houston) played hard and kept a lot of pressure on us. It was difficult to go two overtimes, but we persevered."