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Houston survives late goal

December 26, 2006 - American Hockey League (AHL) Houston Aeros

HOUSTON, Texas - Josh Harding made 22 saves and stopped Jeff Taffe in the final shootout round after Taffe forced overtime with 1.8 seconds left in regulation, and defenseman Shawn Belle scored the deciding shootout goal, as the Houston Aeros defeated San Antonio 3-2 to improve to 16-0-2-0 in their last 18 Toyota Center meetings with the Rampage. Ryan Stokes and Matt Foy scored a goal apiece in regulation for the Aeros (13-15-0-3), who are 23-2-2-0 all-time at home versus San Antonio.

Houston, which has won three of four, is in Chicago on Wednesday and San Antonio on Friday. The Aeros return home Saturday, when they again play host to the Rampage at 7:35 p.m. For that game, get $20 center ice seats (normally $30) or $15 corner seats (normally $22). This offer is only available through the Aeros office at 713.974.PUCK beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Taffe forced overtime with 1.8 seconds left, Pascal Rheaume assisted on that goal and had one of his own, and Josh Tordjman made 31 stops, including a Danny Irmen penalty shot. But San Antonio (10-19-1-1) fell to a league-worst 1-9-1-1 on the road, including 0-5-1-1 in its last seven. The Rampage hasn't won at Toyota Center in regulation since January 16, 2004.

The Aeros seemingly had a 2-1 victory secured, clearing the puck the length of the ice with less than 15 seconds left. Taffe took a pass from Lehoux up the left side, stepped between defenders and ripped a shot over Harding's shoulder for his ninth goal of the season with just 1.8 seconds remaining.

Houston has been outscored 3-0 in the third period of its last three games, and has won the third period just once in its last nine games. The Aeros have allowed two game-tying goals with the extra attacker in their last five home games.

Foy had a great chance a minute into overtime, when Ben Thomson left him the puck in the right circle. But the big Aeros winger fired high and wide.

Driving to the net, Houston's Benoit Pouliot caused a tripping penalty on Joe Callahan with 2:41 left in the extra session.

Tordjman stoned Jason Morgan from point blank range in the right circle midway through that man advantage. Foy then ripped a shot off San Antonio captain Bryan Helmer's foot and into the protective netting above the ice. Foy set up Peter Ratchuk in the right circle, but the defenseman fired a shot wide.

Aeros head coach Rob Daum elected to have San Antonio shoot first, and Conacher sent Lehoux, his leading scorer. Harding made the save with his blocker. Voloshenko hopped out for Houston and fell to 5-for-9 in shootouts, as Tordjman stayed with his backhand deke.

Tyler Redenbach went for San Antonio in round two and wristed a low shot under Harding. Mattias Weinhandl countered for Houston and carved the rookie Tordjman open before sliding in a forehand.

Harding just got a glove on Jakub Koreis' attempt to deflect it wide, and Foy tried to go low on Tordjman, who stood his ground.

Chris Ferraro, signed to a PTO prior to the game, tried to go stick side on Harding, who used that piece of equipment to rob the veteran forward. Daum sent out Belle, who slid a shot under Tordjman from the right side in his first shootout attempt.

Taffe was Harding's last hope, and Harding made the glove save, avenging the game-tying goal. Taffe knocked Harding out for two months of the goalie's rookie season with an elbow to the back of the head in an Aeros victory over Utah at Toyota Center.

Harding improved to 2-3 in shootouts this season, and Houston is 3-3.

Harding's own miscue nearly ended up in his own net less than a minute into the game. He tried to leave the puck for Belle behind the net, but Lehoux stole it. He centered a pass for Redenbach, who tried to go top shelf on Harding, who snared the shot with his glove.

Stokes' second goal of the season put Houston on top at the 7:01 mark, just after the Aeros' first power play expired. A defenseman knocked down Pouliot's shot in the left circle, but Ryan Hamilton picked up the rebound and skated between the circles. He slid a pass back to Stokes inside the blueline on the right side, and the big defenseman rifled a blast through traffic and over Tordjman.

A minute later, Tordjman made a great sprawling save on Bryan Lundbohm's backhander at point blank range in the right circle.

Thomson redirected a Morgan pass from the right circle into the post with Houston on the power play midway through the first.

Tordjman kept it a one-goal game on a Houston shorthanded rush late in the first. Lundbohm headmanned a pass for a cutting Curtis Murphy up the right wing side, and Murphy's blast hit Tordjman's left shoulder and floated over the net.

Seconds later, with Houston down 5-on-3, Irmen got dragged down on a shorthanded breakaway, and referee Jamie Koharski awarded a penalty shot. But Tordjman made the left pad save.

Harding twice stopped Randall Gelech from the right circle in the waning seconds of the first.

Foy scored his 13th to take over the team lead with 1:29 gone in the second and the Aeros on the power play. Thomson floated a pass up the left wing boards for Morgan, who touched the puck cross ice to a cutting Foy at the right doorstep. All the Aeros winger had to do was tap the puck into the net, and he did for a 2-0 lead. Foy has four goals in the Rampage's last two trips to Toyota Center.

Irmen had another good chance one-on-one with Tordjman 7:15 into the second, but his backhander went over the crossbar.

The Rampage got within 2-1 at the 7:39 mark of the second, just six seconds after an Erik Reitz hipcheck turned into a kneeing call. Lehoux won the faceoff clean back to Keith Yandle at the center point. The rookie fired, and Rheaume tipped the puck by Harding from the low slot for his sixth goal.

Voloshenko nearly pushed the lead back to two goals on the power play midway through the second, but his redirection of Murphy's shot from the right point hit the far post.

Stokes helped keep Houston in front with 5:45 remaining in the middle period. After his own turnover caused a San Antonio odd-man rush, Stokes recovered the flip the puck out of the crease.

Rheaume had a good look at the net 3:30 into the third when Houston couldn't fully clear, but wristed a shot over the net.

Harding made a great save on Redenbach's power play drive from the high slot midway through the final period.

Harding stood his ground on Yandle's one-man rush up the left side with 1:38 remaining.

Rampage head coach Pat Conacher pulled Tordjman for the extra attacker with 1:11 left, and seconds later Harding made an amazing save on a double deflection in front.

Houston went 1-for-9 on the power play, while San Antonio finished 1-for-6.

Notes:

Not dressing for the Aeros were Dieter Kochan, John Scott, Alex Leavitt, Chris Ovington and Joey Tetarenko.

Harding improved to 14-3-1 all-time against San Antonio, including an 8-0-0 home mark.

Morgan returned to the lineup after missing 22 games due to call-ups and injuries. Morgan was recalled to Minnesota October 28, but in his fourth game with the Wild, he suffered a deep hip bruise that required surgery to relieve the pressure. He last played for the Aeros October 27 - his eighth game - and picked up his first point of the season. Morgan returned wearing the "A" for alternate captain.

Pouliot returned after missing the last four games with a lower body injury. Pouliot has played in just 11 of the Aeros' last 21 games due to injuries, illness and a call-up to Minnesota. Pouliot picked up on assist on Stokes' goal.

Aeros RW Joel Ward, recalled by Minnesota earlier this month, picked up his first NHL point - an assist - tonight in front of his hometown fans in Toronto. Ironically, Ward scored his first pro goal in Toronto last season, with Houston. Ward assisted on former Aero Kurtis Foster's second goal of the season in a 4-3 Maple Leafs win. Four of the five Minnesota skaters on the ice were former Aeros - including Derek Boogaard and Wyatt Smith.

The Aeros improved to 12-5-0-2 when scoring three or more goals. They are 1-10-0-1 when scoring two or fewer.

Aeros defenseman are 2-for-4 in shootout attempts this season. Murphy is 1-for-3. Forwards are 11-for-33.

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American Hockey League Stories from December 26, 2006


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