By Len Bardsley
© 2005 The Times of Trenton
ESTERO, Fla. – In case anyone missed the Titans’ impressive performance in Alaska that earned them a trip to Florida, they repeated it with gusto Saturday night in the opening game of the Kelly Cup Finals against the Everblades at Germain Arena.
The Titans totally overwhelmed the home team to the tune of 7-0, to take a 1-0 series lead.
The Titans will try to take control of the series with a victory at 5 p.m. Sunday in Germain Arena when Game 2 is played.
The Titans didn’t lose a bit of momentum from their shutout win against the Aces in Anchorage five days and 5,500 miles ago, devastating the Everblades and the standing room only crowd of 7,465 with a five-goal first period.
The Titans pressured the Everblades into countless mistakes and seldom missed when turnovers presented scoring opportunities.
While the Everblades defense was coughing up pucks, the Titans were clamping down, blocking passes and keeping the Everblades away from goaltender Andrew Allen.
Allen picked up his second shutout in a row and his third in four games, making 35 saves.
“That is the way we wanted to start,” said Titans coach Mike Haviland. “It is only one game, though. It does not mean anything. We won one out of a seven-game series. We did a great job of limiting their second and third chances. We did a good job of neutral zone, taking away their speed and forcing them to do things we wanted them to do.”
Bryce Cockburn and Brent Robinson each had two goals, while Paul Brown had a goal and two assists.
The line of Cockburn, Brown and Leon Hayward may have had its best game of the playoffs, being involved in four goals while limiting the Everblades’ chances at the other end.
“The magic was there for all three of us,” said Brown. “Leon played really well down low tonight. As a unit, we try to get it down deep and outwork guys. Tonight we got bounces and it was good we took advantage.”
The Titans must have wanted a nice relaxing game after their ultra-tense 2-0 shutout win in Game 7 in Anchorage on Monday, because the Titans took all the drama out of this one in the first 20 minutes.
The Titans created a goal off their first shot of the period and produced two goals in the final 40 seconds to stun the crowd into silence.
Brown got things started when he took an innocent-looking wrist shot on goal that Tyler McKay kicked right to Cockburn, who easily pushed the rebound past the Everblades goalie to give the Titans a 1-0 lead 2:13 into the first period.
Rick Kowalsky pushed the advantage to 2-0 on the Titans’ first power-play opportunity. Kowalsky took a pass from behind the net from Robinson and caught McKay moving in the wrong direction, easily stuffing the puck past the Everblades goalie with 14 minutes left in the first period.
“We wanted to make sure we could weather the storm,” said Kowalsky. “Our goal was not to get outworked in the first 10 minutes. We were fortunate enough to get a couple early. The momentum shifts to our side and we just fed off that. We just kept taking it to them and were fortunate to get some bounces.”
Brown struck again with 7:46 left in the first period after the Titans survived some heavy pressure with Brown in the penalty box serving an unsportsmanlike-conduct minor. Brown jumped out of the box and took a pass from Les Haggett for a breakaway before fighting off an Everblades player and beating McKay with a forehand move.
McKay was replaced by Craig Kowalski after Brown’s goal, but he didn’t fare much better.
The Titans finished the amazing opening period when Cockburn converted a two-on-one from Brown for his second goal of the period before Scott Bertoli pushed a loose puck past Kowalski to give the Titans a 5-0 lead a mere 14 seconds after Cockburn’s goal.
The Titans didn’t show any mercy in the second period, even though their scoring pace slowed. The Titans continued to dictate the play despite the big lead, forcing the Everblades to ice the puck a half-dozen times in the first 10 minutes of the second period.
The Titans increased their lead to 6-0 with 3:42 left in the second period when Robinson knocked in a Stephen Wood rebound.
Wood finished the memorable night with two assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-5.
“It was a huge confidence boost in the first period,” said Wood. “Getting a rebound right to Bryce who puts it away. The ball kept rolling. We were getting the bounces and capitalizing on their mistakes.”