By Brian Compton
TRENTON — After the Titans dropped Game 3 of the Kelly Cup Finals in disappointing fashion on Friday night, head coach Mike Haviland fully expected his team to bounce back.
Most of the Titans did just that.
Unfortunately, Andrew Allen did not.
The Titans’ netminder, who had been so solid up until Friday night, struggled for a second straight night as he allowed five unanswered goals in an ugly 6-3 loss to the Florida Everblades in Game 4 at Sovereign Bank Arena last night.
With the loss, the Everblades have regained home-ice advantage in this best-of-seven series that is now tied at two games apiece. Game 5 — which will be the Titans’ final home game this season — is set for tomorrow at 5 p.m.
Disappointment is not a strong enough word to describe what has transpired here over the last two nights. The Titans have deprived themselves of an opportunity to win a championship on their ice in front of their fans. That scenario is now gone. Their lead in this series is now gone.
Their main hope now is that Allen plays this Game 5 the way he did in Game 5 of the semifinals against Alaska, when he blanked the Aces in a 3-0 victory.
“He’s been so good, and I’ve got to believe in him,” Haviland said.
But Haviland would not confirm that Allen would start tomorrow. Yet it’s hard to see the head coach switching goaltenders in Game 5 of the Kelly Cup Finals. Chris Houle, who relieved Allen in the third period and stopped all six shots he faced, seemed pretty certain afterwards that Allen will get the starting not tomorrow.
“I would think Allie would be back in there,” Houle said. “He’s been playing unbelievable the whole way. I would imagine he’s going back in, but I’ll just prepare myself as if I was playing.”
The Titans needed only 75 seconds to draw first blood as Michael Schutte picked up his second goal in as many nights on a power-play tally. Just 13 seconds after Ryan Brindley went off for slashing, Schutte took a pass from Scott Bertoli and fired a shot from the point that got through traffic and past Florida goaltender Tyler MacKay as Trenton grabbed an early 1-0 lead. The Titans entered the game with a record of 7-0 this postseason when they score first.
Nick Deschenes, who missed the majority of Game 3 after being handed a game misconduct, put the Titans up by two with his eighth goal of the playoffs at the 15:43 mark of the first period. Deschenes was left all alone in the slot and took a gorgeous no-look feed from behind the net by Leon Hayward and one-timed it past MacKay for the 2-0 lead.
Florida struck quickly to start the second period as David Lundbohm scored his 10th goal of the playoffs at the 2:26 mark. The Everblades won a face-off deep in the Trenton zone and Steve Saviano let go a shot from just inside the point that deflected off of Lundbohm’s skate and past Allen to make it 2-1.
But the Titans quickly regained their two-goal lead as Bertoli scored just 1:25 later on his sixth goal of the playoffs. Bertoli, who had multiple chances in Game 3 but couldn’t find the back of the net, took a pass from Deschenes and skated out in front before backhanding a shot past MacKay as the Titans grabbed a 3-1 edge.Florida once again cut the deficit in half on an inexplicable goal by Tim O’Connell. The Everblades’ defenseman took one stride over center ice — roughly 100 feet from the net — and fired a slap shot that skipped right past Allen to make it 3-2 with 6:01 to play in the second period. It was O’Connell’s first goal of the postseason.
“No excuses,” a dejected Allen said. “I really can’t explain it. I have no answers. The series is 2-2, that’s all I can say.”
The Everblades scored another bad goal less than three minutes later as Damian Surma tied the game at the 16:21 mark of the second. With the teams skating in a 4-on-4 situation, the Florida forward took a pass from Simon Tremblay and let go a harmless wrist shot from the right circle that deflected off of Deschenes and past Allen to make it 3-3. The bizarre goals allowed the Everblades to skate into the second intermission with a tie.
“I thought of taking him out in the second,” Haviland said. “We talked about it as men. He said, ‘I’m fine.’”
He wasn’t, as the woes continued for Allen in the third period. With the teams again skating four aside, Lundbohm potted his second goal of the game at the 7:57 mark, when his harmless wrist shot from the left circle squeaked through Allen’s pads as Florida took its first lead of the night.
Paul Cabana scored his seventh goal of the postseason just 53 seconds later on the power play, as he took a pass from Fast and fired a shot from between the circles that rocketed past Allen to make it 5-3.
“It kind of snowballed on us,” Allen said. “You have to just clear your head and trust yourself. You go through ups and downs, and when you’re a goalie, it’s magnified. I haven’t changed anything. I didn’t get my job done and I feel bad about it. At the same time, you’ve got to pick yourself up and go on.”
The onslaught continued, as Reggie Berg made it 6-3 at the 11:14 mark, when his weak shot off a face-off went off of Allen’s glove and into the net. Finally, Houle came in to relieve the deflated Titans’ goaltender. Allen allowed six goals on 37 shots.
“Nobody’s going to roll over and die,” Haviland said. “It’s a series for a reason. It’s 2-2. We’ve got to figure out a way to get back on the winning track.”
A tremendous crowd of 7,126 set a new postseason attendance record for the Titans. ..Game 6 will be played on Wednesday night in Florida. ..Surma was helped off the ice with 13:26 left in the third period after suffering a leg injury.