The Binghamton Senators moved within one victory of their first Calder Cup title Saturday night, but they’ll have to win it on the road.
Former Hartford Wolf Pack center Corey Locke got the Senators started and Zach Smith scored a power-play goal late in the second period and added an insurance tally with 4:04 left in a 4-2 victory over the Houston Aeros at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
The win was the second in a row for the Senators, who have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven finals and can capture the title Tuesday night at the Toyota Center in Houston. If the Aeros prevail, a decisive Game 7 will be Thursday night in Texas, but the odds aren’t in their favor of adding a second title to the one that they won in 2003. Of the 19 previous best-of-seven finals that have been tied 2-2, only the 1987 Rochester Americans won after losing Game 5.
Locke, the AHL’s MVP and leading scorer (86 points) this season, scored off Andre Benoit’s pass 9:19 into the game during a four-on-four to give the first goal for the fourth time in five games. Locke has three goals and 11 assists in 15 games since returning from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the first round of the playoffs.
Jean-Michel Daoust scored his first of two goals to tie it at 11:08, ending 19-year-old rookie goalie Robin Lehner’s shutout streak at 97:09. The Senators regained the lead as Erik Condra blocked a shot and scored on a breakaway at 12:17, but Daoust, a fourth-liner, got the Aeros even again when he tipped in Marco Scandella’s shot with only 6.3 seconds left in the first period.
The Aeros controlled much of the second period, but the Senators took the lead for good with only 8.5 seconds left when Smith scored his first of two goals off an assist from Ryan Potulny, the leading scorer in the playoffs (26 points) who had been shut out by the Aeros in the first four games. He had been held scoreless in only three of the Senators’ first 17 games through three rounds.
The Senators and 19-year-old rookie goalie Robin Lehner (41 saves) nursed the lead until Smith scored his second of the night and eighth of the postseason. An over-capacity crowd of 4,727 remained on its feet for the remainder of the home finale for the Senators, who held off the Aeros’ final push after they pulled Hackett for a sixth attacker with 2:02 left.
Lehner improved to 13-4 with 2.11 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in 18 appearances this spring. Aeros rookie goalie Matt Hackett, making his 28th consecutive start, had 23 saves and is now 14-9 with a 2.47 GAA and .903 save percentage.
The Senators had got even in the series Friday night as Locke had a goal and an assist to back Lehner’s 21-save performance in a 3-0 victory. Locke scored the Senators’ second goal on the series’ first 5-on-3 power play during a two-goal first period in which they had an 18-8 shot advantage. Locke then assisted on defenseman Derek Smith’s insurance goal and first in the playoffs at 2:19 of the third period.
Cody Bass ended a six-game points drought with the only goal that Lehner and Senators needed 11:48 into the game. It was his second goal of the postseason and first since Game 5 of Binghamton’s first-round series against the Manchester Monarchs on April 20.
Lehner got his league-leading third shutout of the playoffs as the Senators improved to 6-1 after a loss this postseason. The Aeros, who got 34 saves from Hackett, were shut out for the first time since a 3-0 loss at the Texas Stars on March 22.
Whenever the series does end, first-year Senators coach Kurt Kleinendorst will interview for the vacant coaching job of the parent Ottawa Senators. NHL Senators general manager Bryan Murray watched the Binghamton portion of the series and has been interviewing possible successors to Cory Clouston, fired on April 9.
Kleinendorst, a fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 1980, led the B-Senators to a 42-30-3-5 record in the regular season and their first playoff berth in six years. The only other Binghamton team to reach the finals was the Binghamton Whalers in 1982, when they lost in five games to the New Brunswick Hawks.
Murray has already interviewed Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean and has expressed interest in other candidates, including former B-Senators coach Dave Cameron.