Ending the 2009-10 season in dramatic fashion, the San Antonio Rampage scored twice in the final minute of regulation to defeat the visiting Houston Aeros, 3-2, to the delight of 7,069 fans in attendance on Fan Appreciation Day at the AT&T Center.
The matchup represented the final tilt of the season for both the Rampage and Aeros, who each fell short of achieving Calder Cup playoff berths despite posting winning records to date.
San Antonio (36-32-5-7) entered Sunday’s contest with the top-ranked power-play percentage in the American Hockey League (20.9) and had scored a total of 21 man-advantage goals in their last 14 games. The Aeros entered Sunday with a record of 5-3-1-1 in their last 10 games and the AHL’s fifth-ranked penalty killing percentage (85.8).
However, it was Houston’s power play that struck first on Sunday as Aeros center Peter Zingoni recorded his eighth goal of the season at the 14:51 mark of the opening period. Receiving a feed from right wing Jean-Michel Daoust on the right half wall of the San Antonio zone, Aeros blueliner Ryan Gunderson left a pass for Zingoni on the right faceoff dot, where the winger beat Rampage netminder Josh Tordjman through the five hole to provide Houston with a 1-0 lead.
At the 5:50 mark of the second, San Antonio notched the equalizer with center Kyle Turris’ 24th goal of the season. Entering the neutral zone with speed, San Antonio right wing Mikkel Boedker received a forwarding feed from left wing Brett MacLean near center ice before charging into the Houston zone and firing a wrist shot that rebounded off Aeros netminder Anton Khudobin to Turris at the top of the right faceoff circle. Wasting little time, the trailing Turris beat Khudobin high to the glove side on a snap shot to tie the game at 1-1.
San Antonio outshot the Aeros by a 27-8 margin in the middle frame, setting a new Rampage franchise record for shots in a single period.
Houston took a 2-1 lead at 12:21 of the third, on the power play, with a goal by center Andy Hilbert. Controlling the puck on the left point of the San Antonio zone, Aeros defenseman Maxim Noreau fired a slap shot off the leg of Gunderson near the left post to Hilbert in the slot, where the center fired a shot that trickled over the goal line and into the Rampage net.
Refusing to give in, San Antonio tied the contest with only fifty seconds remaining in the game on captain Jeff Hoggan’s 13th goal of the season. With Tordjman on the Rampage bench in favor of an extra skater, Rampage defenseman Sean Sullivan drove into the left side of the Houston zone with speed and fired a shot off Khudobin that bounced to Hoggan on the right post, where the veteran winger knocked in the rebound.
Following Hoggan’s goal, Houston head coach Kevin Constantine attempted to counter Rampage head coach Ray Edwards’ empty-net ploy and San Antonio made him pay.
With only 20 seconds remaining in regulation, San Antonio center Gavin Morgan sent the boisterous crowd home happy with a game-winning empty-net goal. Chasing an Aeros dump-in behind the San Antonio net, Rampage defenseman David Schlemko sent a pass around the boards to Morgan on the right half wall of the San Antonio zone. Feeling little pressure, Morgan then fired a spin-around slap shot all the way down the ice into the empty Houston net.
San Antonio’s 55 shots set a new franchise record for shots in a game.
Tordjman made 24 saves on 26 Houston shots for his 20th victory of the season, while Khudobin turned away 52 of the 54 San Antonio shots he faced for the loss.
The Rampage were 0-for-4 on the power play and 2-for-4 on the penalty kill in the contest.
San Antonio ended the 2009-10 season with second-most wins (36, tied) and third-most points (84) in franchise history during a single season and finished 6th in the West Division with a 36-32-5-7 record in the campaign.