HOUSTON - The captain and the rookie stepped up for the Binghamton Senators when they needed it most.
Ryan Keller scored a power-play goal at 9:09 in the third period and Robin Lehner made 33 saves as the Binghamton Senators defeated the Houston Aeros 3-2 Tuesday night to win the American Hockey League's Calder Cup championship.
Binghamton, the affiliate of the NHL's Ottawa Senators, won the Calder Cup final in six games. It's the first ever AHL title for the franchise.
"We never do it the easy way," said Keller, the Senators' captain. "That's for sure. Again tonight the first two periods weren't great, but we found a way in the third. There's no quit in us. We are going to enjoy this one."
The AHL championship offered glimpse into the future for Ottawa Senators fans as prospects like Lehner, Jared Cowen and Bobby Butler excelled in the high-pressure series.
Lehner, in particular, shone brightly.
The 19-year old rookie, who spent time with Ottawa during the regular season, was presented with the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy given to the AHL's post-season MVP.
"A lot of relief and a lot of happiness," Lehner said. "This is the best team I've ever been with. I've never done anything bigger. I had a lot of critics that I had to show up. I had a lot of doubters, a lot of nay-sayers. They can never take this away from me and this team. This team is the most amazing team I've ever played with. This is huge."
Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst gave Lehner, who replaced Barry Brust as the Sens starting goalie in the first round of the playoffs, the bulk of credit for the Calder Cup win.
"We don't win it unless Robin's between the pipes," Kleinendorst said. "I'm not saying that Brust wouldn't have been able to get it done, but there's no question that Robin was the difference."
Kleinendorst was at a loss for words for the second time in three days after the win. The head coach was in the waiting room while his assistant coach Steve Stirling had quadruple bypass surgery Sunday.
"This is surreal," Kleinendorst said. "It's hard to explain it, but in a different way."
Keller's winner came as he shot from the bottom right circle over the glove of Aeros goaltender Matt Hackett.
"It felt great to be able to do something this series," Keller said. "Our line wasn't great this series, but that's why we are a team. Other lines picked us up. Whenever someone wasn't going right, someone else picked us up.
"I don't care who scored it, but I'm glad we scored it."
Kleinendorst said it was only fitting Keller scored the series clincher.
"He's been our leader from day one when we sat down and talked about how we work together," he said. "He's been there every step of the way and for him to get that game-winner, it couldn't have happened to a better person. He was awesome."
Houston had a chance to tie after Eric Gryba was sent to the box for tripping at 15:19, but the Aeros couldn't do anything on the power play.
The Aeros also had chances to tie it after pulling Hackett in the final minute, but Lehner stopped shots by Patrick O'Sullivan, Robbie Earl and survived a last second scrum in front of the net.
Binghamton tied it at 2-2 at 3:26 in the third as Butler was left unmarked in the middle of the ice on a power play and fired the puck high past Hackett.
Houston took the lead with two power-play goals five minutes apart in the second. After Andre Benoit was sent to the box for slashing, Jon DiSalvatore deflected a Maxim Noreau shot from inside the right blue-line over the shoulder of Lehner to tie it at 6:37.
The Aeros took a 2-1 lead at 11:20 as Jean-Michel Daoust got the rebound of an Earl shot and snuck it past Lehner.
Binghamton took a 1-0 lead at 2:28 in the second as Kaspars Daugavins passed to Roman Wick, who beat Hackett.
Hackett finished with 24 saves.