MIDDLETOWN, New Jersey – The Johnstown Tomahawks’ season will be on the line on Saturday night at Middletown Ice World Arena.
The New Jersey Titans built a two-goal lead and held off a third-period Tomahawks’ comeback to defeat visiting Johnstown 3-2 in Game 3 of the best-of-5 East Division Final series in front of 642 fans on Friday night.
“We’ve been in positions before where we’ve had to come out and win a game,” said Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia, whose team trails 2-1 in the series. “We’ve been able to answer the bell every time. (Saturday) is a different meaning in terms of circumstance and what’s at stake. We have to be ready to go from the drop of the puck.”
The Titans will host Game 4 on Saturday.
A fifth game, if necessary, will be played on Sunday at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
After a scoreless first period, New Jersey had goals by Spencer Stanley at 9:27 and Gavin Gulash at 10:29 – only 1 minute, 2 seconds apart – in the middle period.
“The game was pretty close throughout. I thought that we didn’t bury chances when we had them,” Letizia said. “We had pucks on our sticks with opportunities to make plays. We didn’t. We had an opportunity one way and don’t execute. Then, the puck goes down our end and gets into the net.”
The Tomahawks responded in the third period. Oliver Benwell netted his seventh goal of the playoffs 53 seconds into the final frame. Cameron Hebert assisted on the short-handed tally.
At 4:08, Chad Merrell scored his first postseason goal with assists by Carter Dwyer and Andy Nedeljkovic.
New Jersey’s Shane Haviland scored the game-winner at 7:36, his first goal of the playoffs.
“We peppered everything to the net. Unfortunately the puck didn’t go in,” Letizia said. “We did pretty much everything we could to tie the game up but obviously fell short.”
The Tomahawks outshot the Titans 38-27. Each team went 0 for 3 on the power play.
New Jersey goaltender Brandon Perrone made 36 saves in the win. Johnstown netminder Carter McPhail had 24 saves.
Tomahawks leading scorer Carson Briere received a gross misconduct penalty for spitting in the third period, and Letizia said the league will determine Briere’s status for Game 4.