|Ryan Potulny of the Binghamton Senators tries to gain control of the puck along the boards while being pressured by Colton Gillies of the Aeros during their Calder Cup Finals game Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston. The B-Sens won 2-1 in overtime (Photo by Morris Molina/Houston Aeros).|
Jim O’Brien notched the game-winning goal on a delayed penalty at 7:54 of overtime as the Binghamton Senators earned a 2-1 win over the Aeros Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, evening the Calder Cup Finals at one game apiece.
The B-Sens escaped Houston with a split despite totaling only three goals in the two games after racking up 21 goals in their four-game sweep of the Charlotte Checkers in the Eastern Conference final. Binghamton improved to 9-2 on the road this postseason, while the Aeros lost at home for just the third time (8-3).
Binghamton is now a remarkable 6-1 in overtime games during these Calder Cup playoffs.
"We knew we had to be better," said B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst, who wasn't pleased with the compete level his team showed in a 3-1 loss in the series opener Friday night . "I think we were a little better, but we're still going to have to be better yet. That's a good team over there, and I think this what it's going to be like.
"I thought the effort was there, but we can be better and some of our key players can still be better. We played hard and we deserved to win. But this one could have gone the other way, as well."
On the game winner, O’Brien collected a bouncing puck in the right slot off a broken play in the attacking zone and wristed a shot which beat Houston goaltender Matt Hackett five-hole. Erik Condra picked up the lone assist on the play, as O’Brien registered his third goal of the playoffs and first since scoring in Game 6 of the second round vs. the Portland Pirates.
"It felt great," O'Brien told reporters afterward. "It's a fine line and we're happy to come out of here with a win tonight. We'd feel a lot worse if we were down 2-0, so we feel great right now. We're going back to home ice and hopefully, we'll get some wins there."
The 22-year-old O’Brien was drafted 29th overall by the parent Ottawa Senators in 2007 and recorded 24 regular-season goals in 74 games this year after totaling only eight in 76 contests as a rookie in 2009-10.
For the second time in as many games, rookie forward Bobby Butler staked the Senators to a 1-0 first-period lead, this one coming on an early power play just 1:45 after the opening face-off. Butler now shows 12 goals (12-3-15) in 19 games, just two shy of the AHL rookie record for a single postseason.
The Aeros answered a little less than three minutes later on a power play of their own, as rookie forward Casey Wellman buried his sixth goal of the playoffs and third in the past three games (3-0-3). It remained a 1-1 deadlock until O’Brien’s heroics in overtime.
Senators goaltender Robin Lehner turned aside 28 of 29 shots — including a pair of prime scoring chances for Houston in the extra session — to improve to 11-3 in 15 playoff appearances. Matt Hackett took the loss for the Aeros after making 19 saves.
"It was huge," Lehner told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin in describing the significance of the result. "If we didn't win today, it wouldn't be over, but it would be another Manchester series with everything on the line every game. This gives us a little bit of room to breathe and start to play our game. We had a good effort today, but I still know that we can play a lot, lot better."
The game was played in front of 9,002 fans at the Toyota Center, the largest playoff home attendance in the Aeros' 10-year history. A crowd of 8.018 witnessed the series opener on Friday evening.
After three off days, the series will shift to the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton for Game 3 on Wednesday night (7:05 p.m., Team 1200, ahllive.com). Game 4 is set for Friday, and Game 5 — now assured of being necessary — will be played next Saturday.
Fewer than 300 tickets remain for Game 3, with only a limited number of obstructed view tickets left for Game 4.
— Files from AHL.com contributed to this report