HOUSTON, Texas - In the first postseason game in franchise history, the Peoria Rivermen fell to the Houston Aeros 5-4 in overtime of their West Division semifinal series.
Trailing the Rivermen 4-2 at the second intermission, the Aeros got back into the game with two goals early on in the third period.
At the 1:56 mark, Houston left wing Josh Olson attempted a wrap-around at the right post of the Peoria cage. While the puck did not get by Peoria netminder Chris Beckford-Tseu, it trickled slowly toward the left post. Aeros center Bryan Lundbohm then swooped in and poked it into the goal before any Rivermen defenders could get across to cover the net.
The Aeros knotted things up at 4-4 2:19 into the third thanks to left winger Peter Olvecky.
Off of a goalmouth scramble in the Rivermen zone, the puck came back out to the top of the right circle. Houston defenseman Erik Reitz corralled the puck there and fired a shot in on the Peoria goal that Olvecky deftly deflected past Beckford-Tseu.
Four minutes, 51 seconds into overtime, Aeros center Erik Westrum sent a diagonal centering pass from behind the goalline out in front to right wing Kirby Law. Law received the puck at the bottom of the left circle and snapped off a quick shot that dented the twine just inside the left post of the Rivermen goal.
The Aeros jumped out on top 1-0 just over two minutes into the opening period. Collecting the puck in the high slot of the Peoria zone, Houston defenseman Shawn Belle wristed it in on net. Even though several players were standing in front of the goalmouth, the puck made it through the screen and went by the glove of Beckford-Tseu at the 2:21.
About six minutes later, at 8:24 of the first period, the Rivermen evened things up at 1-1.
A wrist shot by Peoria center Gavin Morgan from within the right circle was deflected by Houston goalie Josh Harding and sent back out into the slot. Rivermen left winger Timofei Shishkanov came streaking down into the slot, the puck hit him in the left shin and bounced back into the goal.
The Rivermen took a 2-1 lead on a power play. As the Peoria skaters controlled the puck in the Houston end, Stempniak fed a pass from the left face-off dot over to Zigomanis at the bottom of the right circle. Zigomanis sent a one-timer into the top left corner of the goal over Harding at the 17:06 mark of the first frame to give Peoria a 2-1 lead.
The Rivermen's advantage grew to two goals at 3-1 early in the second period. From below the right circle in the Houston zone, Stempniak slipped a centering pass toward the front of the net along the ice. There at the top of the crease, Zigomanis put his stick on the ice and redirected the puck under Harding for his second goal of the contest at the 4:35 mark of the middle frame.
The Aeros got to within one at 3-2 on a fortuitous bounce of the puck. From the top of the right circle in the Peoria zone, Houston right winger Joel Ward blasted the puck in on Beckford-Tseu, who sent a rebound out to his right. Rivermen blueliner Brendan Buckley tried to control the hot rebound in the left circle, but the puck hit his left skate and shot back into the goal past Beckford-Tseu at 12:58 of the second. The goal was credited to Houston's Ward.
Just nine seconds after Ward's goal, rookie right wing David Backes got it back for the Rivermen. Penetrating into the Aeros end from the blueline, Backes beat Harding with a wicked wrister from the right hash marks to record the first postseason goal of his professional career. The marker came at the 13:07 mark of the second session and gave the Rivermen a 4-2 lead.
Game 2 of the West Division Semifinals between the Rivermen and the Aeros will be at the Toyota Center in Houston on tonight at 7:30.
Special to The Pantagraph
1. HOU n Belle (1) (Lundbohm, Ward) 2:21.
2. PEO n Shishkanov (1) (Morgan, Ramsay) 8:24.
3. PEO n Zigomanis (1) (PP) (Stempniak, Byrne) 17:06.
4. PEO n Zigomanis (2) (Stempniak, Backes) 4:35.
5. HOU n Ward (1) (unassisted) 12:58.
6. PEO n Backes (1) (Zigomanis, Stempniak) 13:07.
7. HOU n Lundbohm (1) (Olson, Ferguson) 1:56.
8. HOU n Olvecky (1) (Reitz, O'Sullivan) 2:19.
9. HOU n Law (1) (Westrum, Murphy) 4:51.
SHOTS ON GOAL
PEO: Chris Beckford-Tseu (L, 0-1) n 38 shots faced, 33 saves
HOU: Josh Harding (W, 1-0) n 26 shots faced, 22 saves