Unable to counter a four-goal, third period eruption by the visiting Houston Aeros, the San Antonio Rampage fell to Houston by a 5-3 score on Thursday at the AT&T Center.
Despite the fact that neither club will be participating in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs, San Antonio (34-32-5-7) entered Thursday’s contest four points ahead of Houston in the American Hockey League’s West Division standings and hoped to end the final three games of the season on a positive note.
Facing Aeros netminder Anton Khudobin, who had allowed 13 goals over the course of his previous five starts against the Rampage, San Antonio hoped to continue their offensive success on Thursday.
The Rampage, which entered the evening tied for fifth among AHL teams in overall power-play percentage (20.1) and first in home power-play percentage (24.9), faced a Houston club that entered Thursday with the AHL’s third-best penalty kill percentage (86.4) and fifth-ranked road penalty kill percentage (85.0).
Houston opened the scoring a minute and 52 seconds following the opening faceoff on Aeros right wing Danny Irmen’s 12th goal of the season. Entering the Rampage zone on a two-on-one, Aeros forward Jon DiSalvatore carried the puck into the left side of the slot before connecting with Irmen on the right post.
Irmen’s goal represented the winger’s first point since March 3, when San Antonio defeated Houston, 4-3, in a shootout at the AT&T Center.
San Antonio tied the game at one goal apiece, on the power play, at 18:09 of the first on center Joel Perrault’s 17th goal of the season. After pinching into the right side of the Aeros zone in pursuit of a loose puck, Rampage defenseman Shaun Heshka fired a shot from the bottom of right faceoff circle that rebounded to rookie right wing Jared Staal in the crease. Staal then tapped the puck over to Perrault on the left post, where the centerman beat Khubodin high over his right shoulder.
Staal’s assist represented the first professional assist for the youngest of hockey’s renowned Staal brothers.
Thirty-two seconds into the final frame, Houston took a 2-1 lead on right wing Carson MacMillan’s third goal of the season. Gathering a loose puck on the left boards in the neutral zone, Aeros left wing Matt Kassian forwarded a pass to winger Petr Kalus near the Rampage blueline before Kalus drove into the San Antonio zone and found MacMillan in the left side of the slot, where the winger beat Tordjman low to the glove side.
Five minutes and two seconds later, Houston added to their lead on center Chad Rau’s 18th goal of the year. After receiving a pass at the bottom of the right faceoff circle of the Rampage zone from defenseman Jamie Sifers, Aeros center Andy Hilbert found Rau on the right faceoff dot, where Rau beat Tordjman high inside the left post to provide Houston with a 3-1 scoreboard advantage.
Refusing to give in, the Rampage moved to within a goal at 15:29 of the third when Heshka received a pass from Rampage rookie defenseman Mathieu Brodeur and beat Khudobin on a slap shot from the right point. Brodeur’s assist represented his first professional helper.
At 16:15 Rau gathered a rebound off a shot by Aeros center Jean-Michel Daoust near the right faceoff dot of the Rampage zone and flipped a weak shot over Tordjman to reclaim Houston’s two-goal lead.
With Tordjman on the Rampage bench in favor of an extra attacker during a San Antonio power play with under two minutes remaining, Hilbert netted a shorthanded empty-net goal to increase the Aeros lead to 5-2.
San Antonio right wing Mikkel Boedker then added a power-play tally at the 19:13 mark, but the goal proved to be too little too late.
The Rampage outshot the Aeros by a 32 to 23 margin on the night.
Tordjman made 18 saves on 22 Houston shots in the loss, while Khudobin turned away 29 of 32 San Antonio shots for the victory.
The Rampage were 2-for-5 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill in the game.
San Antonio will return to action on Saturday night when they host the Rockford IceHogs for a 7 p.m. West Division matchup on Boy Scout Night at the AT&T Center. Also on Saturday, Josh Tordjman will be presented the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL’s Man of the Year prior to the puck drop.