Ryan Coughlin scored a powerplay goal with 7:05 left in double overtime to lead the Titans to a 4 – 3 win over the New Mexico Ice Wolves to advance to the NAHL’s Robertson Cup finals tomorrow night against the Midwest Division champion Anchorage Wolverines.
The Titans are only the second team in the history of the league’s seven-year-old East Division to advance to the final game. It will be the organization’s first appearance in the championship.
After a scoreless first period in which Titans netminder Andrew Takacs made some spectacular saves to keep the Ice Wolves off the board, the Red Buckets opened the middle stanza with 1:18 remaining in a powerplay which carried over from the opening period when New Mexico’s Dillan Bentley was called cross-checking.
Just twenty-five seconds into the second period the Ice Wolves’ Alex Gomez got the visitors on the board. As Nick Ring brought the puck into the offensive zone up along the far side boards, he stopped at the half wall and went to make a pass back towards Chris Carroll at the top of the point but it was deflected by Gomez before the biscuit reached Carroll, and Gomez picked up the loose puck and skated in all alone on Takacs and Gomez slid the puck through Takacs five hole for Gomez’s second goal of the playoffs.
It was the third time during this playoff run that the Titans have allowed a shorthanded goal. The other two were against the Northeast Generals in the divisional semi-final series.
Brendan Dumas scored his first of two goals on the evening at 6:07 into the middle stanza to knot the score at one. As the Titans dumped the puck deep into the Ice Wolves zone for a line change, New Mexico’s Mitchell Becker went to chip the puck up along the near side boards to Blayde Pogreba but Pogreba was knocked off the puck by Tommy Bannister. The assistant captain made a shuttle pass to Dumas at the top of the slot. As Dumas started to circle to his left, he took a wrist shot that found its way through a screen and beat Ice Wolves goalie Beni Halasz long side for Dumas’ second goal of the playoffs.
With 7:04 remaining in the second, Dumas was called for tripping to give the Ice Wolves the man advantage. Forty-eight seconds later New Mexico regained the lead on Brandon Holt’s first goal of the playoffs. With a scrum along the Titans far side boards, the Ice Wolves William Howard came away with the puck and skated along the end wall. As Howard reached the Titans net, he made a centering pass out to Holt in the slot, and Holt wristed the biscuit past Takacs to make it a 2- 1 game.
Dumas evened the score at 4:36 into the third period. After Ring won the draw deep inside the Ice Wolves zone, the puck was picked up by Dumas who was to the left of Ring. As Dumas went towards the net, he caught Halasz moving to his left as the Ice Wolves goalie anticipated a move across the slot but Dumas took a shot that beat Halasz short side for the North Attleboro, MA native’s third goal of the playoffs.
Three minutes later New Mexico took their third lead of the night when Jack Dalton scored his first goal of the playoffs. With play inside the Titans zone, Eric Charpentier cleared the puck from the top of the slot and into the neutral zone where it was picked up by Dalton. As Dalton gained the line, he made a nice move around Anthony Mollica at the top of the far side circle, and Holt took a wrist shot just outside the crease that beat Takacs high short side to make it a 3 – 2 game.
The Titans tied the contest again with 1:30 remaining in regulation on Anthony Calafiore’s third goal of the playoffs. With the faceoff deep inside the Ice Wolves zone, Takacs was called for the extra attacker. After the puck exited the Ice Wolves zone, Ring picked up the loose puck along the near side boards and reentered the offensive zone. As Ring stopped at the hash marks, he sent the puck back to Jack Karlsson at the point, and Karlsson immediately passed it over to David Posma on Karlsson’s left. Posma passed the biscuit back to Ring who was along the near side boards. Ring made a cross-ice pass through the slot to Calafiore who took a one-timer that beat Halasz short side to make it a 3 – 3 game and send it into overtime.
After a scoreless first overtime, the contest entered its second overtime period. At 9:06 into the second overtime, Howard received a five-minute major penalty for checking-from-behind on Saturday’s hero Levente Keresztes (Howard also received a game misconduct). With 1:50 remaining with the extra attacker, Coughlin sent the Titans to the championship game.
As Posma brought the puck into the offensive zone, he passed the puck to Michael Young along the far side boards. Young passed it Coughlin in the slot but the puck was poked by an Ice Wolves defender yet retrieved by Tommy Bannister. As Bannister started to skate behind the goal line he made a centering pass out front to Coughlin who wristed the puck through Halasz’s five hole to win the game.
It was the Titans sixth powerplay of the evening.
Takacs, who was outstanding all game, stopped 46 of 49 shots while Halasz turned aside 37 of 41. Click here for the box score.
The Titans, who have won all three of their series after trailing in them, will now face the Wolverines who advanced to the finals by sweeping the St. Cloud Nordsmen. It will be the first ever meeting between the teams. It also will be the first time for each team reaching the finals.
The Robertson Cup will be held tomorrow night at 8:00PM ET.