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By: Mike Peck
Houston, Tex.- The Binghamton Senators put the exclamation point on a remarkable turnaround season by capturing the 2011 Calder Cup championship with a 3-2 win over the Houston Aeros at the Toyota Center in Houston on Tuesday night.

The Senators, who joined the AHL in 2002-03 as the top development team of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, had missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons entering the 2010-11 campaign but finished it by earning the city of Binghamton’s first championship in 29 years of hosting an American Hockey League franchise.

Binghamton defeated the Aeros four games to two, winning the final three games in a row and four of the last five after dropping the series opener. The Senators also established an AHL record with 10 road victories this postseason (10-2) and finished 15-4 in their final 19 playoff games overall after falling into a 3-1 deficit against the Manchester Monarchs in the first round. Binghamton overcame that deficit – winning all four games of the series in overtime – before knocking off the Portland Pirates (4-2) and Charlotte Checkers (4-0) en route to the Finals match-up with Houston.

In Tuesday’s series-clincher, captain Ryan Keller tallied the game-winning goal on the power play when he roofed a shot short side past Aeros goaltender Matt Hackett at 9:09 of the third period. Defenseman Andre Benoit, who along with Corey Locke earned his second Calder Cup title after winning with Hamilton in 2007, picked up the lone assist on Keller’s decisive goal.

Roman Wick and rookie Bobby Butler also scored for the Senators, with Butler registering his 13th postseason goal after combining for 32 regular-season markers between Binghamton and Ottawa.

Senators rookie goaltender Robin Lehner won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, finishing 14-4 with a 2.10 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage, and three shutouts in 19 appearances this spring. He turned side 34 of 36 shots to pick up the victory in Game 6.

A 19-year-old native of Gothenburg, Sweden, Lehner was a second-round draft pick (46th overall) by Ottawa in 2009 and appeared in 22 AHL games for Binghamton and eight contests for the NHL Senators during the 2010-11 regular season.

Jean-Michel Daoust and captain Jon DiSalvatore potted second-period power play goals less than five minutes apart for the Aeros, who took a 2-1 lead into the third period. It marked Houston’s first loss of the postseason when leading after 20 minutes (7-1).

Head coach Kurt Kleinendorst, in his first season with the Senators, guided his club to the Eastern Conference’s crossover playoff berth after finishing fifth in the East Division with a regular-season record of 42-30-3-5 (92 points). The Senators’ playoff roster featured 15 players who appeared in a combined 232 National Hockey League games with the parent Ottawa Senators during the 2010-11 season.

Binghamton’s Calder Cup victory brings the curtain down on the AHL’ historic 75th season. In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and through the years the American Hockey League has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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