HOUSTON - The Hamilton Bulldogs' attempt to become the third team in American Hockey League history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit ended in controversial fashion Tuesday night.
With the score tied 3-3 and just over a minute left in the game, Houston fired the puck at the Bulldogs net. Hamilton goalie Drew MacIntyre made the save and a wild scramble ensued with a pack of Aeros players jabbing at the puck under MacIntyre's pad until it finally went across the goal line.
Jon DiSalvatore got credit for the goal with 1:13 left in the third, and the Aeros withstood a late Hamilton barrage to take the series and the game 4-3 and advance to the Calder Cup.
Hamilton head coach Randy Cunneyworth said MacIntyre was driven behind the goal line by DiSalvatore's stick and then his foot.
MacIntyre agreed with his coach.
"That's what they 100 per cent did," said MacIntyre, who made 30 saves. "I don't know what they expect the goalie to do there. My glove was on top. It wasn't on top for long. I'll give them that. You can't just run a goalie in like that. That's unfortunate. That's two good refs. I got a lot of respect for them. It's just unfortunate."
Cunneyworth said referee Terry Koharski, who called the goal good, told him he had seen the puck the whole time.
"I don't know for sure," MacIntyre said. "It looked like he slid into me. I don't know if he (Koharski) really saw it. I don't know if he talked to the other refs. It's unfortunate. It's real unfortunate to lose like that."
Hamilton had several chances in the final minute, including a scrum in front of the Houston net with a couple jabs at the puck by Aaron Palushaj. Ryan White took another shot and a scrum ensued in front of the net with a number of Bulldogs jabbing at the puck, but again, Aeros goalie Matt Hackett, who finished with 24 saves, didn't let it through.
Cunneyworth said he thought the Bulldogs should have been given a penalty shot as Aeros' defencemen Justin Falk put his glove over the puck in the crease.
"I think it's a combination (of disappointment and anger), but mainly dead silence," Cunneyworth said of the mood in the locker room following the game. "Nobody was losing their composure. Just dead silence. Almost disbelief. We felt that we should have had seconds on the clock and a penalty shot due to Falk grabbing the puck in the crease."
Houston took a 3-2 lead early in the second with a Casey Wellman goal, but the Bulldogs charged right back with Palushaj's power-play goal at 9:57 in the second.
The game remained tied until DiSalvatore's goal.
"The main thing there is that you saw the desire until the end and the intensity of this group and the resiliency all year," Cunneyworth said. "I thought they deserved a break on a call or something like that. They never quit and they had a never die attitude."
Houston got off to a quick start, scoring twice, nine seconds apart to take a 2-0 lead at 7:12 in the first.
Patrick O'Sullivan took the puck behind the net and found Chad Rau in the crease for the first goal, and off the ensuing faceoff, Wellman stole it from Brandon Nash, took it inside the blue line and hit a slapshot that deflected off Nash’s stick past Hackett.
The Bulldogs quickly recovered with Dustin Boyd taking it inside the blue line and firing a shot over Hackett's shoulder from above the circles at 9:13 in the first to make it 2-1.
After Houston’s Carson McMillan was whistled for hooking at 13:03 in the first, Hamilton took just 18 seconds with the man advantage before Mathieu Carle took a pass from Dawes in the right circle and beat Hackett top shelf.
"We put it all on the line and played well," White said. "I have no regrets. We had a great run there and were one goal away from finishing things off. If there were one thing I would regret is our start. Maybe a little bit of jitters. We got down 2-0, but we got out of it."