By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
TRENTON – It’s called bonking, and it may be more commonly used in cycling, but it’s precisely what Titans goalie Andrew Allen seemed to experience over the weekend.
It’s what happens when your tank is empty, your energy is gone, focus becomes fuzzy and the routine becomes difficult.
A long, long season seemed to catch up to Allen in a hurry in Game 4 of the Kelly Cup Finals against the Florida Everblades when he allowed five goals in a span of just over 13 minutes between late in the second period and midway through the third on Saturday.
Now the question is, can Allen and the Titans recover in time for Game 5 at 5 p.m. Monday at Sovereign Bank Arena with the series tied 2-2?
Game 6 will take place Wednesday at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla.
Allen has played 28 games in a row since Chris Houle last started on March 19. The 28-year-old goalie has traveled 3,777 miles by bus and 20,400 miles by plane since March 19.
The grind of the long season combined with soft ice in a warm Sovereign Bank Arena seemed to zap Allen of his usual steady play and razor-sharp focus that had been so evident for the majority of the playoffs.
Allen seemed to weaken as the game progressed, instead of getting stronger as he had done so many times in past playoff games. Allen occasionally would start a game by allowing an early goal, but he usually ended games by making the big saves when needed.
The third period, which had been Allen’s and the Titans’ domain in the playoffs, suddenly was their downfall.
Allen had entered the weekend having stopped 84 third-period shots in row, perfect for nine straight third periods, dating back to a David Masse power-play goal in Game 3 of the North Division finals against Reading.
While coming back to earth can be expected after playing at such a high level for so long, the crash the Titans experienced Friday and Saturday was historic in nature.
The Titans never had allowed more than five goals in two consecutive home games in franchise history before this weekend.
While you have to give credit to the Everblades for their resilience, talent and determination in getting to Allen, you have to question Allen’s condition in the later stages of Games 3 and 4.
It is natural for a hockey player to fight through fatigue or sickness, but when it comes to goalies, fighting through something often means they are fighting the puck as well.
It’s up to Titans coach Mike Haviland to decide if Allen is mentally and physically ready for what will be the biggest game in Titans franchise history Monday.
Allen should realize, however, he does not have to carry the Titans on his shoulders to earn a win; he just has to be sure he will have the stamina and fortitude to stand tall in the crucial moments of the game.
His teammates often have said they feed off Allen’s play, and the evidence of that is clear from Game 2 to Game 4. The Titans were inspired by the play of their goalie in Game 2 and earned a hard-fought 2-1 comeback win in Florida.
When Allen allowed a Tim O’Connell shot nearly from center ice to get past him with 6:01 left in the second period in Game 4, the Titans went from playing to win to sitting back and hoping not to lose.
The Titans didn’t generate another serious scoring chance after the O’Connell goal, and only managed four shots during the stunning third period.
The Titans can’t afford to wait and see the state of their goalie, be it Allen or Houle Monday.
It is a lot easier for 17 players to carry one on their shoulders than to have one player bear the weight and anxiety of an entire team.