By Brian Compton
©The Trentonian 2005
TRENTON — Andrew Allen picked one heck of a time to play his best game of the year.
The Titans’ goaltender has had some darn good games the past few months, but Tuesday night, he stole the show. He stole a game.
And if he can find his game at baggage claim in Anchorage tomorrow, the Titans could very well be 60 minutes away from the Kelly Cup Finals.
Allen stopped all 21 shots he faced — 11 of them came in the opening period — and Scott Bertoli had two assists as the Titans earned a 3-0 win over the Alaska Aces in Game 5 of the National Conference Finals at Sovereign Bank Arena.
The Titans now have a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series that shifts back to Anchorage with Game 6 at Sullivan Arena on Friday night. The Titans’ goal heading into Tuesday night was to earn two cracks to win this series in Alaska.
Mission accomplished. And they have No. 29 to thank for it.
“He did an unbelievable job,” Titans head coach Mike Haviland said of his goaltender. “He was just unbelievable. He came to play. He’s been around. I think Andrew’s got a lot to prove to a lot of people. He’s been bounced up and down. He’s driven this year to really prove to everybody that he can win.”
Allen was tested early and passed with flying colors. Just 45 seconds into the game, No. 29 made a gorgeous stop on Charles Linglet, who appeared to have a wide open net to shoot at. But he slid across the crease and gobbled up the point-blank shot with his left pad to keep the game scoreless. Allen came up big again with just over 11 minutes left in the first, as he somehow got his right pad on Ryan Gaucher’s backdoor opportunity.
Allen just continued to shine. With just under eight minutes still to play in the first, the Aces went on an odd-man rush similar to the one that sparked Sunday’s overtime win. This time, though, the red light didn’t go on. Allen managed to snag a wrist shot from Kimbi Daniels out of the air as what could have very easily been a 3-0 deficit was a 0-0 game.
“I was thinking going in that I hadn’t yet come up big in the first period in this series, said Allen, as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” blared in the background. “I’ve given up goals in every first period so far. I felt good. I’ve had some games where I had more shots, but I think overall it was the most consistent game of the year for me.”
Finally, the Titans threw their goalie a bone. Michael Schutte scored on the power play with 1:19 remaining in the first as the Titans got the all-important first goal in this pivotal game. With Linglet serving an elbowing penalty, Schutte took a pass from Brent Robinson and fired an NHL-caliber slap shot from the point that rocketed over Peter Aubry’s glove to give Trenton a 1-0 lead. It was Schutte’s fourth goal of the playoffs. Allen stopped all 11 shots he faced in the opening period as the Titans went into the locker room with the one-goal edge.
“Some huge stops,” Bertoli gushed. “He played well. Obviously, we picked our game up. We knew how important this game was. It was a team effort. We played well. We made a conscious effort of just going out there and taking it to them.”
Moments after they failed to capitalize on a power play, the Titans grabbed a 2-0 lead as Nick Deschenes potted his seventh goal of the playoffs at the 12:14 mark of the second period. Bertoli was able to pick up a loose puck beyond the right face-off circle and backhanded it in front to Deschenes, and the power forward fired a wrist shot past Aubry to give the Titans a bit of a cushion. Trenton out-shot the Aces 11-6 in the middle period. Alaska’s first shot came 15 minutes in. The door was officially slammed.
In the third, the Titans gave the Aces nothing. Even late in the game, when Davis Payne pulled Aubry for the extra attacker, Alaska just couldn’t accomplish anything. The Aces recorded just 10 shots in the final 40 minutes of the game. Jerramie Domish hammered the final nail in the coffin with an empty-net tally with 7.4 seconds remaining.
“I don’t mind that at all,” Allen smiled as he talked about the way his team tightened up loose bolts on defense. “That’s the way we know we can play. You can’t sit back. A two-goal lead is a dangerous lead. We give them one, they get the momentum and anything can happen. We really went out with the mindset to keep getting better and better as the game went along.”
Alaska, here we come.
“This series is like two prize fighters, punching one guy after the next,” Haviland said. “It’s the guy I guess who’s going to learn maybe to duck on one. We have to learn that right now. We’ve got to get refocused to go into a great building.”