By Josh Katzowitz
Reading Eagle Correspondent
CINCINNATI – In Reading winger Joe Zappala’s mind, nobody thinks the Royals can win this North Division Finals series against the Cyclones.
Well, maybe that’s not exactly true. Actually, the only people who expect an upset like that were the ones who were so upset Wednesday night in Reading’s locker room.
The Royals could take solace that they had tied it after trailing by three goals, but two quick Cincinnati scores in the final 4:47 and a controversial decision by the referee to allow the first one left Reading in a foul mood following its 5-3 loss before 1,809 at U.S. Bank Arena.
The Cyclones win tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with Game 5 on Thursday at 7:30, and Zappala’s teammates remain confident they’ll pull off the upset hardly anybody expects.
“We’re playing the top team in the league,” said Zappala, whose goal 7:50 into the third period tied it 3-3.
“We’re going up against it all right now,” he said. “The only people that expect us to win right now is us. We’re playing hard and we think we have a legitimate shot, and we’re going to keep going.”
Wednesday night’s finish didn’t leave Reading happy, though.
The officials consulted briefly before referee Nick Suhy upheld the goal. The Royals disagreed.
“They jammed the net on us, like they did all night,” Reading coach Karl Taylor said. “I don’t think there was one goaltender interference call. From our viewpoint, our guy thought their player kicked it in. The ref decided that he didn’t kick it in. So, it’s a goal.”
Said Zappala: “We thought there was a kick. He wasn’t in position to see it. You can’t worry about things you can’t control. Obviously, it’s going to leave a sour taste in our mouth, but it’s going to give us more energy.”
Still, the Royals had a chance. After Schmidt was penalized for cross-checking with 4:02 to play, Reading had a 4-on-3 advantage, but couldn’t capitalize. Then, with 1:27 left, the officials caught Cincinnati’s T.J. McElroy hooking and sent him to the penalty box, and after Karl Taylor pulled Danny Taylor from the net, they held a 5-to-4 advantage.
But Cyclones forward Barret Ehgoetz stole the puck at mid-ice and, though he lost his balance, managed to score an empty-netter to end Reading’s chances.
“We’re disappointed but let’s not forget, we didn’t play well in the first period,” Karl Taylor said. “As a team, we can’t allow that to happen. We have to get ourselves together. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’re in a battle.”
Once again, tempers flared during the game.
After a major skirmish erupted following the final buzzer in Game 3, leading to more than a dozen penalties and fines for both teams’ coaches, two Cyclones and Royals center Malcolm MacMillan, the squads squared off in the opening seconds Wednesday.
Three seconds into the contest, MacMillan and Conrad Martin dropped their gloves and faced off with Martin getting the better of it before both were sent to the penalty box.
With 14 seconds remaining in Wednesday’s game, the two teams tussled with each other again. It led to Zappala and defenseman Mike Salekin being sent off the ice with Beauregard joining them.
“There’s a lot on the line,” Karl Taylor explained. “Nobody wants to go home. Whoever loses this series doesn’t play anymore. Both teams want to play and they’re playing with emotion and playing hard. That’s going to happen in the playoffs.”