By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
TRENTON, N.J. – You could forgive Titans fans if they forgot what a playoff victory looked like.
The Titans gave them a nice reminder last night at Sovereign Bank Arena in Game 1 of their best-of-five ECHL opening-round series against the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies.
The Titans defeated the Bullies, 4-2, before 1,720 fans to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The Titans host Game 2 at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Thursday’s win was the Titans’ first in the playoffs since April 7, 2002, when they closed out their first-round series against the Roanoke Express.
The victory also marked the first win against the Bullies in the postseason after being swept in the playoffs by their New Jersey rivals in 2002 and 2003.
The game ended in tumultuous fashion after Titans defenseman Steve Munn and Bullies forward Peter Bournazakis got into a brief altercation at the whistle. As the teams poured from their benches and got into a shoving match, the two coaching staffs nearly came to blows.
Titans assistant Ted Dent tried to cool down Bullies head coach Matt Thomas with a splash of water, resulting in Thomas shoving Dent. The teams were eventually separated and sent to the locker rooms.
As usual, things are never dull when the Titans and Bullies meet.
“There were some words during the game,” Thomas said. “We walk by the bench … I will call Teddy Dent out right now. He squirted me with a water bottle. Should I have kept engaging in the whole thing? Probably not. I am going to stick up for my team and stick up for myself. That is not professional – squirting a water bottle at somebody. It is juvenile.”
Titans coach Mike Haviland was first upset with Mark French when the Bullies assistant started to yell at the Titans’ bench in the second period. Haviland felt the Bullies were in a desperate search for an emotional spark during the second period, when they were trailing 3-0.
“I thought it was unprofessional that Mark French in the second period is yelling at me and Teddy,” Haviland said. “He (Thomas) should worry about his own staff. He (French) got thrown out of a game not too long ago. He opens his mouth again tonight in the second period when it is 3-0. That is what they need to do as a team. If anybody is unprofessional, it starts from there.”
The Titans were in total control of most of the game before a Bournazakis power-play goal with 13:35 left in the third period gave the Bullies life, cutting the Titans’ lead to 3-1.
Fraser Clair scored to trim the Titans’ advantage to 3-2 before the Titans collected a much-needed insurance goal from Nick Deschenes with 8:35 left in the third period.
“I thought we played a good 40 minutes,” Haviland said. “We gave them life tonight because of all the penalties in the third. We will move on, it is only one game. We didn’t win anything. I don’t think the intensity will ever leave. It is not going to end.”
Leon Hayward, who scored the first goal of the game, feels the Titans have to match the intensity but remain smart.
“They are just playing hard,” Hayward said of the Bullies. “Everybody is playing hard. It is the playoffs. They play like that a lot. They have a good power play and if they can draw a team into power plays, why wouldn’t you do that? We have to stay focused and stick to our game plan.”
That is exactly what the Titans did for the first 40 minutes.
Hayward knocked in a Tim Judy rebound to give the Titans a 1-0 lead late in the first period, before the Titans produced two goals in the second period. Brent Robinson scored off a nice cross-crease pass from Bertoli before Jerramie Domish slipped a wrist shot past Trevor Koenig to give the Titans a 3-0 advantage with 9:45 left in the second period.
“It has been a while,” said Bertoli, who had two assists. “We played hard and played well for most of the game. It is two teams that compete hard and want to win. It makes for good hockey.”