Yes, they limped into the playoffs (3-5-4 in their past 12), but the Houston Aeros won two in a row at the end, including a must-win, 2-1, victory over the Texas Stars on Sunday night to clinch the Western Conference's eighth seed heading into the American Hockey League playoffs. It's the ninth time in 11 years Houston has advanced to the playoffs since entering the AHL from the now-defunct International Hockey League.
Joel Broda and Kris Foucault each scored goals and Matt Hackett made 28 saves as the Aeros, who advanced to the Calder Cup Finals last year, moved on to play Oklahoma City in the first round.
"It was one heckuva way to get into the playoffs," Aeros GM Jim Mill, also the Wild's assistant to the GM, said. "We believed. The coaches did a great job, and the guys were great. They really battled hard, and my God, it was pretty impressive to see them win the last two like that.
"We were all scoreboard watching, but all I said all along is, 'we win, we'll get in. We just got to win our games."
Mill said that all the players knew after a 0-0 first period yesterday that Milwaukee won, meaning, if the Aeros won, they'd be in.
"We knew what we had to do," said Mill. "It was up to us to win a game."
I'll get back to the Aeros in a moment, but I did want to report that according to multiple sources, Wild director of player personnel Blair Mackasey has been granted permission from the team to interview with the Montreal Canadiens for their vacant GM position. Pierre Gauthier was fired earlier this month.
Mackasey has worked for the Wild for six seasons, originally hired by Doug Risebrough as director of pro scouting. He came to the Wild from Hockey Canada. Before that, he scouted for the Phoenix Coyotes. He's coached, he's managed, he's scouted and, most cool, he played catcher in the organization of my favorite team, the Montreal Expos.
Just a great guy and he lives in Montreal. Marc-Antoine Godin of La Presse in Montreal just posted the same news on their web site. If you speak French, That link is here.
Others reportedly up for the position in Montreal include Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois, Chicago assistant GM Marc Bergevin, Los Angeles President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille, Toronto assistant GM Claude Loiselle and NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, who was a finalist for the Wild GM position in 2009.
Vincent Damphousse's name is also out there, as well as Detroit exec Jim Nill, who trust me won't be leaving there, and agent Pat Brisson.
Back to the Aeros, this is a vastly different team than the Aeros' team that Mike Yeo guided to the last round last year. First of all, they used 57 players, including five backup goalies that didn't play. That's most in the league.
Up front, there's no Patrick O'Sullivan, Casey Wellman, Colton Gillies, Jed Orymeyer or Warren Peters. Those were five key cogs. On the blue line, there's no healthy Marco Scandella, no Jared Spurgeon, no Justin Falk.
"Petey and Orts were great leaders for us," Mill said. "We had them there to help develop the kids, and for their leadership to rub off. Cody [Almond] and [Carson McMillan], those guys aren't first-year pros anymore. It's time for them to step up. We have [Brett] Bulmer here, who's playing great. Nick Palmieri has been great. Big goals last game by Broda and Foucault.
"These guys are growing into more significant roles."
The Aeros were 1-4-3 this season against the Barons. The Aeros were outshot by only 24 over the eight games and OKC went 10 for 31 on the power play. Barons goalie Yann Danis has never lost to Houston in regulation in his pro career.
The series was one-sided, but the games were close (5 of 8 one-goal games), Matt Hackett only played OKC twice and the Aeros were missing key pieces in all those games due to callups in Minnesota and their own injuries.
Speaking of which, Scandella hasn't been playing for Houston. He's still banged up from his late-season injury here. His status for Game 1 is questionable. Steve Kampfer (knee) is skating on his own and is "very questionable" for Games 1 and 2.
The series begins Thursday in Houston. It's a best-of-five series. In this format, the higher seed gets to choice of making it a 2-2-1 format or a 2-3 format. Oklahoma City has opted to start on the road and finish with the last three games at home, although I believe there was building availability issues for the Barons, as well.
1-Oklahoma City Barons vs. 8-Houston Aeros
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 19 – Oklahoma City at Houston, 7:05 P.M.
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 20 – Oklahoma City at Houston, 7:35 P.M.
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 22 – Houston at Oklahoma City, 7:00 P.M.
*Game 4 – Tue., Apr. 24 – Houston at Oklahoma City, 7:00 P.M.
*Game 5 – Wed., Apr. 25 – Houston at Oklahoma City, 7:00 P.M.
I won't be around Thursday and Friday, so want to keep up to date? Go to aeros.com on game nights to listen to Joe O'Donnell's broadcasts. You can also follow Joe on Twitter at @aero_joe. You can also follow the fine local press and bloggers down in Houston at @3rdintermission and on their blog at this link.
Also, I will be live in-studio on Paul Allen's show at KFAN Wednesday at 9 a.m. to talk Wild and NHL playoffs.
Amazing series so far, incredible entertainment, lots of shenanigans that has forced NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to work overtime. Very confusing decisions he's made in terms of suspensions, but after yesterday's ridiculousness in the Penguins-Flyers series now, I see Shanahan laying down the hammer now.