The New Jersey Titans split two games against the Johnstown Tomahawks last weekend at the 1st Summit Arena, as the East Division Final will go back to Middletown Ice World with the series tied at one game apiece.
Last Friday, the Titans dropped a fast-paced and high-scoring game 6-5, but rebounded in Game 2 the following night with a 4-3 overtime victory. It was the first time New Jersey won a game in Johnstown all season, and now the Titans have a chance to close out the series on home ice and advance to the Robertson Cup Tournament in Blaine, Minnesota.
It appeared the Titans were in for a rough game on Friday when the Tomahawks jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first 3:02 of the game, but Mitch Machlitt and Kyler Head scored eight minutes and 40 seconds apart to even the score. Mitchell Hale responded with a goal to give Johnstown a 3-2 lead, but Jake LaRusso answered 28 seconds later to make it 3-3. Hunter Toale added one more goal at 15:06 of the first period, making the score 4-3 after 20 minutes.
Things appeared to slow down in the second period, but Samuel Solensky doubled the lead at 19:20 with his first goal of the playoffs. Just 13 seconds later, Machlitt was awarded a penalty shot and slipped the puck by Carter McPhail to make it a one-goal game again. Gavin Gulash tied the game at 2:48 of the third period, but Cameron Hebert notched a power-play goal at 11:28, and it would stand as the game-winner.
Head coach Craig Doremus said he was not displeased with his team’s effort on Friday, and commended the players’ ability to respond each time the Tomahawks took a lead.
“For us it was a good push back after being down 2-0 early. We showed some resiliency throughout which I think was important for us, because it becomes a war of attrition as far as special teams go, and unfortunately we came up on the short end of it,” Doremus said.
The following night, it was Joe Kile who opened the scoring for Johnstown as he redirected a pass over the glove of Brandon Perrone. New Jersey bounced back in the second period, however, as Gavin Gulash scored a pair of goals to give the Titans a lead. At 2:32 he slammed in a one-timer on a shorthanded two-on-one rush. At the 13:00 mark, he buried a shot from point-blank-range on a three-on-one for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
Johnstown stormed back with two more goals in the third period, coming off the sticks of Pavel Kharin and Oliver Benwell. The latter goal came with 2:07 left in the third, forcing Doremus to eventually pull Perrone for the extra attacker. The move paid off as Spencer Stanley flung a wrist shot past McPhail with just 19 seconds left in the third, sending the game into overtime. One minute and 47 seconds into the extra session, Chris Garbe ripped a long shot high-glove side for his fourth goal of the postseason while tying the series at one.
“We were happy with our game throughout, I thought we deserved a better fate up until that point, so for our guys to just dig in their heels and stay focused on the task at hand and be resilient again is huge,” Doremus said. “Bouncing back late I’ll tell you there was never a sense of doubt from the guys. I think they were playing with a lot of conviction and a lot of belief, and it was a big-time play by our captain at the end of the game to tie it up.”
As the series shifts back to Middletown, the Titans are now two wins away from advancing to the Robertson Cup Tournament for the first time in the team’s four-year history. Doremus spoke about the differences in the team’s morale now compared to the first round, when the Titans were down 0-2 against the Rebels. Despite returning home in a better position to win the series, he talked about his team having to play with same urgency as they did against the Rebels.
“I think we need to. We responded well to being down 0-2 against the Rebels and down 0-1 against Johnstown,” he said. “It’s something we definitely want our players to continue to play with. We don’t want to have a sense of comfort or safety in the dressing room or around the team and I think we want to play with that urgency and somewhat desperation as well.”
Puck drop for Game 3 is set for Friday night at 7:35 p.m., while Game 4 starts at 7:05 p.m. the following night. For those unable to attend the games, they will be available for streaming on hockeytv.com.
Photo Credit: Pete McDonald (Twitter: @PMacDonald51)