By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
TRENTON, N.J. – Matt Zultek (pictured) has waited a long, long time this season to score a big goal.
The wait finally ended with 14:07 left in overtime last night in Game 3 of the North Division finals against the Reading Royals at the Sovereign Bank Arena.
The Titans forward scored on a wraparound for his first playoff goal and his second goal in two months to give the Titans a 3-2 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series in front of a crowd of 2,469.
The Titans will try to eliminate the Royals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sovereign Bank Arena.
There were times this season when it looked like Zultek might be traded after watching his production drop from 35 goals last season to just 12 this season.
But the power forward of old emerged when he collected a loose puck left by Leon Hayward, took a shot on Royals goalie Barry Brust, picked up his own rebound and tucked it into the opposite side of the net, using every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame.
“To get something like that does lift a little weight off your shoulders,” said Zultek. “It is a great feeling to get that, especially not producing like I was expected to.”
Zultek’s goal and the play of Titans goalie Andrew Allen helped the team shake off a spirited effort from the Royals.
Reading dominated the Titans during the first period, taking a 1-0 lead on a Tom Galvin power-play goal, and had the Titans pinned in their own end for several shifts in overtime before Zultek’s winner.
Allen finished with 37 saves, five coming in overtime.
“They took it to us pretty good the first couple (minutes in overtime),” said Titans coach Mike Haviland. “(Allen) kept us in it. We stuck to what we wanted to do and he (Zultek) drives to the net and gets a big goal. We got one from a guy that a lot of people didn’t want around here for a long time. He scores a huge goal for our organization and our team.”
The Titans took some strong constructive criticism from Haviland during the first intermission and responded with a more focused, determined effort to stabilize the game.
Michael Schutte scored a power-play goal to tie the game midway through the second period and Rick Kowalsky gave the Titans a 2-1 lead on another power-play opportunity midway through the third period.
“We came out sluggish and made some mistakes,” said Kowalsky. “Guys were not happy with our performance in the first and I think we responded well.”
The Titans made the most of their two-man advantage midway through the third period to take a 2-1 lead after they had killed a Royals five-on-three advantage to start the period.
Kowalsky tapped in a Hayward pass from the side of the net to give the Titans the lead with 10:08 left in the third.
David Masse fired a slap shot past Allen with Les Haggett in the penalty box for high sticking to tie the game 2-2 with 3:39 left in the third.
The Royals played the first 1:17 of the third on a two-man advantage, but the Titans did an outstanding job on the penalty kill. The trio of Jarrett Thompson, B.J. Abel and Steve Munn were on the ice for the majority of the five-on-three and limited the Royals to two harmless shots on goal.