By Brian Compton
©The Trentonian 2005
TRENTON, N.J. – Perhaps the turning point of the National Conference Finals came on Tuesday when Paul Brown was reassigned from Milwaukee.
The scrappy, emotional winger scored twice last night — the second tally coming 6:29 into overtime as the Titans erased a 3-1 deficit in an incredible 4-3 win over the Alaska Aces in Game 3 at Sovereign Bank Arena.
It was yet another remarkable come-from-behind victory for the Titans on their home ice, as Brown scored late in the second to make it 3-2 and Rick Kowalsky potted a power play goal with just 36.3 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime. Every time this team has seemed down and out during these playoffs, something freaky happens.
This time, former Flyer Kimbi Daniels closed his hand on the puck with under a minute to go. The major blunder set up Kowalsky’s tally.
“That’s the playoffs,” Kowalsky said. “(Daniels) didn’t really have much of a choice. We were all over the puck. Everybody’s been in that position. You try to make it as discreet as possible.”
The Titans now have a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series and can put a stranglehold on the Aces with another win Sunday. The opening face-off for Game 4 is slated for 5 p.m.
For Brown, the rookie is simply just another addition to what has been a pulsating postseason for these Titans. He has returned to Trenton from the American Hockey League without missing a beat and played a major role in what was another phenomenal night at SBA. Brown crashed the net and tapped home a rebound in the extra session after Michael Schutte fired a shot that appeared to have gone off Peter Aubry’s glove and then the crossbar before dying right in the crease.
“Pretty unexpected,” said Brown, who now was three goals in two games.
“Sometimes you just get bounces, and it happened twice for me tonight. I feel great right now.”
Alaska drew first blood on Mike Lee’s second goal of the playoffs at the 12:04 mark of the opening period. The Aces capitalized on a bad defensive play by Steve Munn, who failed to clear the puck as Daniels sent it out in front to Lee, who one-timed it past Andrew Allen for the 1-0 lead.
After failing to convert on three power plays, Leon Hayward evened things up with a shorthanded tally with 2:59 remaining in the first. The Alaska defense fell asleep at the wheel and inexplicably allowed Nick Deschenes to skate right into the slot with the puck before the power forward dumped it off for Hayward, who fired a wrist shot over a sliding Aubry for his third goal of the playoffs.
A slashing call on Stephen Wood took away a Titans’ power play and with more ice to play with, the Aces regained their lead on a goal by Daniels. The Alaska forward took a pass from Olivier Filion and fired a wrist shot that beat an unscreened Allen stick side to give the Aces a 2-1 edge at the 2:27 mark of the second period.
Alaska went up by two late in the second on a power play goal by Chris Minard. After Jarrett Thompson was whistled for boarding — one of 14 minor penalties called in the second –defenseman Ryan Gaucher let go a slap shot from the point that Minard was able to deflect past Allen as the Aces grabbed a 3-1 lead.
The Titans got a huge goal from Brown at the conclusion of the second period to cut the deficit in half. Just before the horn sounded, Brown grabbed a loose rebound in front and fired it past Aubry for his second goal in as many games to make it 3-2 on a power play tally.
“That’s the reason why we brought him back — his energy,” Haviland said. “We felt that he could help us. He’s putting some points on the board and it’s great for our hockey team.”
And when it seemed as if both time and hope were running out, Daniels — who has been playing this game a long time — foolishly closed his hand on the puck and tossed it out of the zone for the two-minute penalty. With Allen on the bench for the 6-on-4 advantage, Schutte fired a shot that went wide and around the boards and it popped it front, where Kowalsky slammed it home for his sixth goal of the playoffs as the Titans tied the game at the 19:24 mark of the third.
“I saw it go off the back wall and I just couldn’t believe that it was coming that perfectly,” Kowalsky said. “I did not have to move. (Aubry) just stayed on the far post playing the shot. It was an open net.”
While it looked like a designed play, Schutte admitted he simply missed the net. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.
“As much as I wish to say it was a designed play, I missed the net,” Schutte joked. “We’re a pretty confident bunch right now. I don’t know if it’s our destiny this year, but guys never stop working and never give up.”