After they nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback of their own on Friday night, the Trenton Titans watched the Reading Royals strike for three goals in the third period for a 3-2 win at the Sun National Bank Center last night.
The loss completed the teams’ series of three straight meetings in three consecutive days, as the Titans snuck away with an overtime win on Thursday before losing back-to-back one-goal affairs the last two games.
Yannick Tifu registered the game-winner for Reading, while Denny Urban and Ian O’Connor provided tallies as well in the win. Stephen Schultz had a two-goal game for Trenton, while forwards Kelly Zajac and Jacob Cepis each recorded two-assist games, as the club suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since December 8-9.
“Two turnovers and a missed assignment on a faceoff play,” Titans’ head coach Vince Williams summarized as to how the lead slipped away. “When we have our opportunities to put it away we have to, whether it’s being on the power play, in front of the net, back door. We did have our chances. Even after they scored their two goals we had two or three quality opportunities, but you can’t let a team like that back in.”
Williams added that, coming out of the game, the Titans knew they should have come away with their second win in three days against the team at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Scott Wedgewood did an amazing job in net for Trenton last night despite the fact he allowed three goals in the final 17:21. “We scored two goals early, which is great for us, but on the other side, we thought we won the game a little bit already,” Wedgewood said after the 37-save loss. “We didn’t get that many shots after that in the first. Second we did a little bit, but third, again, we just didn’t sustain anything in their end and they just kept coming all night long. They knew they were down early and had to battle.”
Although the game ended poorly for Trenton, it started extremely well thanks to the line of Schultz/Zajac/Cepis. It took all of 16 seconds before Schultz potted his first, as Cepis wrapped the biscuit around the boards to Zajac in the corner, who then dished it into the slot for #14.
Less than three minutes later, the trio struck again; this time, for a grittier goal than the display of puck movement shown on the opening strike. As the three forwards moved towards the net together, a Zajac shot was blocked by a defender, which resuled in both Philipp Grubauer being out of position for a rebound and Schultz grabbing the loose disc while facing an open net. Schultz responded quickly, as he fired the puck into the cage before Grubauer could get back in time for his 12th of the campaign and a 2-0 Titans’ lead just 2:41 into the contest.
“Right place, right time I guess,” Schultz stated after the defeat. “Zajac and Cepis did a great job in the corners and were able to get me the puck. We’re playing well as a line and got off to a hot start, which is nice.” The line nearly converted on another opportunity early in the first when Zajac threw a pass cross ice to Cepis, who was sitting at the far post. Cepis was able to get a stick on the pass, but aimed it just wide of the net.
Right before the nine-minute mark of the first period, Ryan Grimshaw was boarded in the Titans’ zone by Danick Paquette. Jacob Drewiske stood up for his teammate and fought Paquette immediately after the check, as the pair earned five for fighting and Paquette handed Trenton a five-minute power play with the hit. Unfortunately for the Philadelphia Flyers’ affiliate, they couldn’t convert on a situation that could have easily put the game away.
Urban started the comeback for Reading early in the final period with a slap shot from the point that found its way through traffic to beat a screened Wedgewood high. The Titans’ goaltender reacted as though he never saw the shot, as Urban’s 13th of the season made it 2-1 Trenton 2:39 into the third stanza.
A little less than five minutes later, O’Connor slammed home a one-timer through Wedgewood’s five-hole from the top of the slot off a Dustin Stevenson feed to even the score at two with 12:43 left in regulation.
Tifu gave Reading their first lead of the game with a ridiculous shot from the bottom of the circles. Skating with the puck along the boards to Wedgewood’s glove-side, Tifu quickly shifted the puck from his backhand to his forehand with a defender on his back and ripped a shot that flew by the goalie’s blocker-side shoulder and clanked the inside of the far post for his 12th tally of the year. The Royals grabbed the lead with 3:25 left in the tilt.
With time running out on the Titans, Reading defenseman Bryant Molle flipped the puck over the glass in his own zone to earn himself a trip to the sin bin.
This put Trenton on the man advantage with 1:53 remaining and also opened up the opportunity to pull the goalie for a 6-on-4 situation, which Williams utilized. Before Wedgewood left his crease and darted for the bench, Matt Mangene completed a beautiful slap pass from the point cross ice to Andy Bohmbach at the side of the net.
Unfortunately for the forward, his touch on the puck resulted in it hitting just wide of the near post rather than into the wide open cage. After Wedgewood reached the bench, Cepis found himself all alone in the slot, but couldn’t beat Grubauer high with only seconds left in the contest. Trenton couldn’t muster up any more chances after Cepis’ opportunity, as the Titans watched the Royals walk away with another pair of points.
The Titans will let the sting of this loss stay with them until Friday, when they visit the Wheeling Nailers for a game at WesBanco Arena.
Notes: Andrew Johnston was taken down at Reading’s blue line near the midway point of the middle period with a clear path to the puck and a clear chance to score. Not only did Johnston not earn a penalty shot, he was also called for diving to produce a 4-on-4 scenario in a situation that should have put Trenton in a position to gain a three-goal lead…Wedgewood ended his three-game winning streak with the loss last night. He also set his season-high for save in his loss, as the previous mark was 35 in Trenton’s 3-0 loss to the Greenville Road Warriors on November 24…Schultz recorded his second straight multi-point game and his third in the Titans’ last four games. He also extended his point streak to seven games, where he has posted five goals and eight assists…Cepis recorded his third two-assist game in his last seven games and his fourth two-assist performance of the year. Zajac produced his first two-assist game of the year, but it’s his third multi-point contest of the season for Trenton in his seven tilts with the club…Blake Kessel went pointless to end his point streak at seven games, while Marcel Noebels experienced his second pointless game in December to snap his streak of eight straight with a point…Last night was the fourth time this season Trenton blew a two-goal lead and lost. Yesterday’s loss was the first time the Titans lost such a game in regulation rather than in overtime or a shootout…The Titans fell to 3-6-1 vs. Reading this season, and Trenton is now 11-7-3 against the rest of the ECHL.