The Maine Nordiques scored three unanswered goals in the second period en route to a 5 – 3 victory over the visiting New Jersey Titans to win the East Division Semi-Final series three games to two and oust the Titans from the Robertson Cup playoffs.
It looked like it was going to be the Titans night as they took a quick 2 – 0 lead just five minutes into the game.
Brad Zona scored just 1:48 into the contest to open the scoring. With play inside the Nordiques zone, Zona took a wrist shot from the point that was blocked out front and went to the far side wall. After an ensuing scrum, Jake LaRusso came away with the puck and sent it back to Zona who took another wrist shot that found its way through a maze and beat Maine’s goaltender Tyriq Outen to make it a 1 – 0 game.
Zach Nazzarett doubled the Titans lead just 5:05 into the first period. Nazzarett picked up the loose puck at the top of his own zone and made a bounce pass off the far side boards to himself to get around a Maine defender. Nazzarett brought the puck up through center ice and into the offensive zone on a two-on-one with Evan Werner. As Nazzarett reached the faceoff dot, he made a toe drag and passed the biscuit to Werner on his left. Werner took a weak shot that was saved by Outen but he couldn’t control the rebound and Nazzarett tucked in the loose puck through Outen’s five hole and into the back of the net for his first goal of the playoffs.
Maine then scored two goals in less then a minute to tie the game at two.
Caleb Price brought the puck into the offensive zone along the far side boards. As he gained the line, he went to make a cross-ice pass down low to Nazzarett but it was intercepted by Maine’s Matt Connor in the slot and Connor made a long stretch pass to Tristan Fasig who skated down the golden road all alone and beat Christian Stoever long side to cut the Titans lead in half.
Forty-nine seconds later the game was tied. After Stoever made a breakaway save on Caden Pattison, the puck went into the far side corner where it was picked up by Maine’s Jack Strauss who sent it back to James Philpott at the point. As Philpott skated towards the faceoff dot, he made a centering pass down low to Pattison who wristed the puck past Stoever for his first goal of the playoffs.
The Titans regained the lead with thirty-five seconds remaining in the first period. Matt Doyle took a wrist shot from the Nordiques near side faceoff circle that went wide of the net and bounced off the end boards and went all the way back to Jack Ring at the point. As Ring started to walk the line, he passed it over to Anthony Calafiore at the top of the far side faceoff circle. Calafiore took a wrist shot that beat Outen low glove side for his fourth point of the series.
Then the wheels came off as the Nordiques scored three unanswered goals in the second period to take control the game’s outcome.
Titans captain Jake Suede was called for high sticking just thirty-three seconds into the middle stanza. Eleven seconds later the game was tied again. After Maine’s Isaiah Fox won the draw deep inside the Titans zone, the puck went back to Luke Antonacci at the point. Antonacci passed it over to Stefan Owens on his left. As Owens skated from the near side boards to the high slot, he took a wrist shot that founds its way through the screen out front and past Stoever for his second goal of the series.
During the five-game series, the Titans only had five power play opportunities but were not able to convert on any of their chances.
The Nordiques took the lead for good at 4:03 into the second period. Pattison picked up the loose puck behind the Titans net and passed it back to Joey Foss at the near side point. Foss passed it over Andrew Noel on his right. Noel took a shot that went wide of the net, but it went off the end board to Jack Strauss who was to the right of the Titans cage and Strauss stuffed it in past Stoever to give the Nordiques the 4 – 3 lead.
Maine closed out their scoring with 8:34 left in the second period. The Nordiques’ Cannon Green brought the puck out of his zone along the near side boards and passed it over to Owens on his right. As Owens gained the line, he sent a return passed to Green at the top of the faceoff circle. Green took a shot that Stoever saved but the rebound came right back to Green. Green went to make a centering pass out front, but the puck hit a Titans’ defender’s skate and past Stoever to make it a 5 – 3 game.
Both goaltenders were exceptional during the series. Stoever finished the night stopping 38 of 43 shots while Outen turned aside 27 of 30. Click here for the box score.
The Nordiques will now face the Maryland Black Bears in the East Division finals beginning this weekend in Maine.
Despite the outcome, it was a good season for the Red Buckets. They entered the year with only four returners from the previous season and added a lot of young and talented players along with veteran leadership and Stoever in early February to finish the season with 27 wins, and then took the East Division’s second seed to a fifth and deciding game.