The Calder Cup chase is all but over for the exhausted Hamilton Bulldogs.
Jon DiSalvatore scored twice, leading the Houston Aeros to a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs in American Hockey League playoff action Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs now trail Houston 3-0 in the Western Conference best-of-seven final.
"We've got to be more desperate," said Bulldogs goaltender Drew MacIntyre.
The only two teams to come back from a 0-3 deficit in the AHL playoffs were the 1959-60 Rochester Americans and the 1988-89 Adirondack Red Wings.
Hamilton was swept twice after falling down 0-3, both by Rochester, in 2004 and 2005.
Game 4 is Wednesday in Hamilton.
The playoff schedule seems to have caught up with the Bulldogs, who looked listless in stretches of Game 3 despite facing a desperate situation. They have played nine games in 17 days in the month of May alone, and now have less than 24 hours to prepare for a possibly decisive Game 4.
Maxim Noreau also scored for Houston, the minor league affiliate of the NHL's Minnesota Wild.
Nigel Dawes and Andreas Engqvist replied for Hamilton, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.
MacIntyre was pulled with two minutes left in an attempt to tie the game, but the Bulldogs could not get a third goal. MacIntyre finished with 24 saves.
"We were great at the end, but waited too long," MacIntyre said.
Matt Hackett mad 25 saves in the win.
DiSalvatore opened the scoring 3:39 into the first period on a two-on-one with Patrick O'Sullivan. Hamilton defenceman Frederic St. Denis could not catch up with DiSalvatore, who put the puck over MacIntyre's glove.
'A lull in the first'
Noreau put the Aeros up 2-0 at 15:40 of the first as he intercepted a cross-ice clearing attempt by Gabriel Dumont and beat MacIntyre unassisted.
"We had a lull in the first," said Hamilton head coach Randy Cunneyworth.
Hamilton managed to salvage the first period by scoring a pair of goals in the last two minutes. Dawes found some space in the slot on the power play after Aaron Palushaj interfered with Aeros centre Robbie Earl to give the Hamilton sniper his tenth goal of the post season.
Engqvist scored the tying goal, taking advantage of an empty net off a Hackett rebound.
The Bulldogs came out in the second with new life, after not showing up until the final two minutes of the first. Then, with one bad bounce, the wind was taken out of the Bulldogs' sail.
DiSalvatore scored his second of the game at 5:18 of the second. He was the lucky recipient of a tip off Hamilton captain Alex Henry's stick, and buried the puck through MacIntyre's pads.
It was a soft goal MacIntyre would like to forget. Despite carrying the Bulldogs into second round, MacIntyre has struggled against Houston, giving up eight goals in three games.
"I haven't made the big save when it's been needed," MacIntyre said.
Cunneyworth though the Bulldogs did everything right on the play, despite the outcome.
"I like what we did. We separated the player from the puck and all of a sudden it's bouncing right onto their tape... We couldn't have played it any better than we did. They got a lucky bounce and he controlled the bouncing puck and mad no mistake on the shot," Cunneyworth said.
"We were bound and determined to not allow that to be a winner, and it turns out it was."
DiSalvatore almost had a hat trick as he rang the puck off the cross bar minutes after his second goal.
Hamilton was hit with an interference call on Joe Stejskal late in the third period, which didn't sit well with Cunneyworth.
"The defenceman's got a choice to turn and go back and get the puck off a hit immediately," Cunneyworth said. "I thought he hit pretty immediately. With four and half minutes to go, that's a tough pill to swallow."
With the win, Houston improved to 7-1 in games decided by one goal, and 6-0 when leading after two periods in this year's playoffs.