By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
TRENTON, N.J. – The Titans lost their chance to win the Kelly Cup on home ice, but they made sure they went out like champions.
The Titans saved their most inspired hockey for the final period at Sovereign Bank Arena this season, scoring five goals in a tidal wave of momentum and swamping the Everblades 5-2 in front of a 4,939 delirious fans, who were probably considering leaving early after the second period.
The Titans now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and will look to capture their first Kelly Cup title in Game 6, 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Germain Arena.
The Titans went into the third period trailing 2-0, showing little life against an Everblades team that was winning every race to loose pucks and every battle along the boards.
That all changed with 17:07 left in the third period when Leon Hayward scored on a breakaway, cutting the Everblades lead to 2-1 and brining the crowd and a sleeping giant to life.
Just like they did against the Reading Royals in the North Division Finals when they were down by two goals heading into the third and started a comeback on a Hayward goal (eventually winning 4-3), the Titans showed just how good they can be with their backs firmly against the wall.
All the character, desperation and will to win were suddenly on display one more time.
“I think he changed the whole game with that goal,” said Titans’ coach Mike Haviland. “It just went our way. You could see the confidence on the bench once he broke through. Leon scored that goal we were skating and beating them to loose pucks.”
The Titans put together their fourth third-period comeback of the playoffs, tying the game on a Stephen Wood slap shot that went off the stick of Tyler MacKay before taking the lead for good on a B.J. Abel wrist shot with 9:34 left in the third period.
“We came out flat in the first two periods,” said Abel. “We have been in this situation before. We just had to get the puck deep and move our feet. We all knew what to do. Everybody stepped up, did their thing and got it done.”
What made this comeback amazing was the fact the Everblades didn’t let the Titans get anything done for the first 40 minutes.
“They took it to us the first 20,” said Haviland. “We talked about it as a team. I didn’t yell, I didn’t scream. We talked about this being our last period, let’s go out and play as hard as we can and see where we go. I think it was our will.”
The Titans didn’t stop after Abel gave them a 3-2 lead. They continued to surge with a roaring crowd finally behind them Hayward scored again with 7:25 left when he tipped in a shot by Tim Judy to give the Titans a 4-2 lead.
The Titans closed things out when Les Haggett scored off a feed from Nick Deschenes to push the advantage to 5-2 with 2:15 left in the game.
“We just went out there and played,” said Hayward. “We were sluggish and waited the first period. We hoped the puck would come to us. In the third we went out there and get it.”
The Everblades dominated the Titans for the first period and just missed on several chances during a power play before taking a 1-0 lead with 12:48 left in the first period.
The Everblades broke in on a 3-on-2 after Titans’ defenseman Judy was caught up ice and David Lundbohm eventually pushed in an Ernie Hartlieb rebound.
The Titans were more than a little lucky to escape the opening period down only 1-0. The Everblades kept the Titans pinned in their own end for extended periods of time and watched two Everblades shots hit iron.
Damian Surma hit the crossbar with 15 minutes left in the first period, while Keith Anderson hit the post with one minute left in the opening period.
The Everblades had 17 shots on goal during the first period, while the Titans could only generate five shots on Tyler MacKay.
“We came out a little sluggish and they came out flying,” said Titans’ goalie Andrew Allen, who finished with 34 saves. “They had the momentum coming in and it showed early. I think we weathered the storm. They looked like that had it for a while there.”