HOUSTON -- Virus or vampires, these Houston Aeros are hard to kill.
The Aeros have faced elimination four times in the AHL playoffs and are a perfect 4-0 under the gun.
Even after coughing up a two-goal lead in the last 21 seconds of regulation time Friday night at Toyota Center, the Aeros rebounded in the second overtime period to steal a 4-3 victory from the Manitoba Moose to tighten up their best-of-seven Western Conference final.
The Moose, after winning the first three games, are now ahead 3-2. Now it's back to Winnipeg where Manitoba will be forced to implement its earned home-ice advantage to try to win the series. Game 6 is Monday night at the MTS Centre.
Veteran Tony Hrkac, given just a little extra room near the Moose goal, scored at 4:19 of the second overtime to save the Aeros, who were in command of this game after scoring two goals in the first five minutes.
"I look at how presidents age," coach Kevin Constantine said. "I started the playoffs at 50 and I feel like I'm 73 years old already."
For the longest time Friday, the Moose looked like they were wasting another chance to advance to the Calder Cup final.
But they caught fire in the third, getting an early goal from Michael Grabner and then markers from Jason Krog with 20.6 seconds left and Mark Cullen with 2.0 seconds left and looked primed to avoid their first back-to-back playoff losses.
"Whenever we get pushed up against a wall in the past, we've come through," Krog said about the late goals, both with goalie Curtis Sanford lifted for an extra attacker. "We played some of our best hockey desperate, with late goals and overtime wins.
"It was a great feeling to tie it up. We had our chances after that but it didn't work out."
Krog said the Moose will remain confident returning to Winnipeg for Game 6.
"I don't think this is the time to get down on ourselves," he said.
"We obviously had them on the ropes again and give them credit again, they didn't quit. We took it to them at the end and tied it up but they still had jump in overtime. The chances went back and forth and they buried first."
"We gave them some life but we're happy we're going home and we've been pretty solid back there and our crowd will be there and we'll be excited about that."
Moose coach Scott Arniel was clearly upset about the overtime loss, lashing out with an expletive at the Free Press before a single word or question was put to him the post-game scrum.
Sanford,whoreplacedCorySchneider to start the third period after Schneider had given up three goals, said there was no fancy game plan to give his team a chance to put the Aeros away.
"No, I just went in there and tried to relax as much as I could," said Sanford, who hasn't seen any action in more than a month.
"It's been a while since I played. You want to go out and win so you do what comes naturally and hope for the best results.
"We had a couple of good chances and there were pucks laying around that we just couldn't get to in time. That's the way the momentum swings in overtime."
Didn't see shot
Sanford had 22 saves but said he didn't see Hrkac's shot.
"I didn't see it come off it his stick," he said. "I was just guessing that he was shooting. I don't know if it hit our defenceman or not. That's overtime."
Manitoba had 17 shots and most of the best chances in the first overtime but couldn't put it past goalie Matt Climie, who was Houston's third goalie in this series.
And besides their better play as Friday's game progressed, the Moose can also be bouyed by the fact they went two for two on their power play.
They went more than four full periods in Games 4 and 5 without a single opportunity from referee Frederic L'Ecuyer.