Levente Keresztes scored with 3:50 remaining in overtime to give the “visiting” Titans a 3 – 2 win over the New Mexico Ice Wolves to even their best-of-three Robertson Cup semi-final series at one to force a third and deciding game.
Wow! What a game! This was a prototypical playoff contest with hard hits, scoring chances, speed, and excellent goaltending.
The game’s tone was set from the drop of the puck with quick movement and chances. Despite no score after the opening period, the Titans had three opportunities in to score but couldn’t convert.
At 2:18 into the middle stanza, New Mexico’s Blayde Pogreba was called for slashing, and then forty seconds later teammate Jeff Hutchinson was assessed a tripping penalty to give the Titans a 5 on 3 advantage. Four seconds after Pogreba’s penalty expired and the Titans still on the powerplay, Tommy Bannister scored his first of two goals on the evening to give the Red Buckets a 1 – 0 lead.
After New Mexico’s goaltender Beni Halasz made a blocker save, the rebound went to Anthony Calafiore in the far side corner. The Staten Island, NY native sent a pass back to Brendan Dumas at the near side point. Dumas took a clapper that was saved by Halasz but the rebound came out to Bannister, who was to the left of Halasz, on the doorstep and Bannister jammed the biscuit into the back of the net for his second goal of the playoffs.
With 8:08 remaining in the second period, Blake Farrell was called for hooking to give the Ice Wolves the man advantage. With time running out on Farrell’s penalty, New Mexico’s Sully Scholle evened the score at one.
As the Ice Wolves looked to set up for their final push on the powerplay, Wilmer Svensson set up the play at the top of the far side faceoff circle and sent a pass to Gustav Blom at the point. Blom sent a return pass to Svensson who made a cross-ice pass to Mitchell Becker who couldn’t control the pass. As Becker picked up the loose puck and went down towards the goal line, he made a backhanded pass to Scholle in the slot, and Scholle took a shot that went off the shaft of Titans netminder Andrew Takacs’ stick and into the net for Scholle’s seventh goal of the playoffs.
The Titans regained the lead with 2:28 into the third period on Bannister’s second goal of the game. After New Mexico dumped the puck into the New Jersey zone, it was picked up by Colin Grable at the far side half wall and he passed it up to Reece Brednich at the point. As Brednich went to pass the biscuit up to Bannister at center ice, it was almost intercepted by the Ice Wolves’ Jeff Hutchinson, but the puck hopped over Hutchinson’s stick and right to Bannister. As Bannister gained the line, he made a drag move around New Mexico’s Joe Prouty, and Bannister took a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Halasz high, blocker side to make it a 2 – 1 game.
With 9:55 remaining in the period, New Mexico’s Grant Ellings evened the score at two. Scholle brought the puck into the Titans zone and took a shot that went wide of the net and it was picked up by Nicholas Haviar at the near side half wall, and he passed it down to Alex Gomez behind the goal line. Gomez passed it up to Brandon Holt at the hash marks, and Holt made a tap pass to Gomez who cut towards the slot. Gomez passed the biscuit to Ellings at the far side faceoff dot and Ellings took a wrister that found its way through a screen and beat Takacs high glove side for Ellings first goal of the playoffs.
The Titans did have a chance to win it in regulation, but Halasz made a nice save on Ryan Coughlin to send the contest into the extra period.
Overtime was fast and furious with end-to-end action and each team having their opportunity to win the game, but were stymied by outstanding goaltending.
Then with 3:50 remaining in overtime Keresztes’ third goal of the playoffs sent the Robertson Cup semi-finals to a third and deciding game.
After Michael Young took a shot from the slot that was saved by Halasz, the puck went into the far side corner where it was picked up by Billy Feczko. Feczko passed it back to Jack Karlsson at the point and “Swede” took a clapper that was tipped out front but went to Keresztes who was to the left of Halasz. Keresztes caught Halasz cheating to move towards his right to anticipate a pass but Keresztes took a wrist shot that beat Halasz through his five hole and into the net to win the game.
Takacs, who was outstanding throughout the contest, stopped 36 of 38 shots while Halasz turned aside 36 of 39. Click here for the box score.
The third and deciding game will be held this evening at 7:00PM ET. The winner will face the Anchorage Wolverines, who swept the top seed St. Cloud Nordsmen, Tuesday night in the national championship game at 8:00PM ET.