The New Jersey Titans have secured second place in the East Division, and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Robertson Cup Playoffs, with a 4-3 victory against the Northeast Generals at Middletown Sports Complex Friday night.
Since moving to New Jersey in the 2015-16 season, the Titans have made the playoffs each year, but it will be the first time they have home-ice advantage in the postseason.
“That’s huge, we’re making history every day, and home ice advantage is always a better thing to have in those first two games,” said Ryan Naumovski, who finished the night with a goal and two assists.
New Jersey scored two goals in the third period to overcome a 3-2 deficit. Matthew Cameron scored the game-winner on an empty net, as Generals were looking for a regulation win and a chance to compete for third place. With the Titans winning and the Generals losing, all four seeds in the East Division are now set.
“Our compete level was there tonight, but I don’t think our execution was where it needed to be,” said Titans head coach Craig Doremus. “But we look at our guys harder than outsiders because we want them to be perfect, so you have to credit them for not quitting in that third period.”
The Generals jumped to a 1-0 lead just a minute and 13 seconds into the game when Brian Chambers finished a tap-in at point-blank range. Two minutes and 59 seconds later, Matt Demelis slid a puck under Brandon Perrone’s pads for his 17th of the season and put Northeast up by two.
Later in the period, Tate Singelton took an errant stick to the face and was cut, resulting in a four-minute power play for the Titans. At 13:15 of the first, Ryan Naumovski darted into the Generals’ zone on the right side and snapped a quick shot past David Fessenden’s blocker for his 17th goal of the season.
Any momentum the Titans had going into the second period was dashed when Colin Bilek restored the two-goal lead for Northeast. Louis Boudon found the Generals’ captain wide open in the slot, and Bilek ripped a shot off the post and in for his 18th of the season at 1:33 of the second period.
This time the Titans had a more swift response, as Gavin Gulash cut the deficit back to one goal two minutes and 31 seconds after Bilek’s tally. Cameron slid the puck to Naumovski at the goal line, and he threaded the needle with a cross-crease pass to Gulash for his 13th goal of the season. Just over seven minutes into the third period, Kyler Head took a wrister from the high slot that beat Fessenden high-blocker side for his sixth goal of the season, tying the score at three.
Because the Generals needed two regulation wins to move into third place, head coach Joe Lovell decided to pull Fessenden and make a push for the go-ahead goal late in the game. They had a few chances in the final minute, but Perrone rose to the occasion and shut the door. With time winding down, Naumovski cleared his zone while Cameron won a foot race to the puck, picking up the go-ahead goal on the empty net with 1.9 seconds remaining on the clock.
Perrone finished the night with 38 saves and notched his first win since February 23. Doremus spoke about his bounce-back performance.
“He settled down. I thought the beginning of the game was a little rough and choppy both for Brandon and our team, but nevertheless, we stuck with him and he was able to battle, figure it out and come through with the win,” he said. “When there are games where he battles and doesn’t play his best game but we’re able to get two points, it’s a sign of maturity and growth for both him and the team.”
The Titans will play its regular season finale tonight in the second end of a back-to-back against the Northeast Generals, with puck drop slated for 7 p.m. at the Middletown Sports Complex.