Kory Nagy and Shane Harper each collected a pair of goals, Scott Wedgewood made 25 saves and the Trenton Titans dodged a key two-man disadvantage in the third period en route to a 6-4 win over the Reading Royals on Thursday night — the 15th and final meeting between the clubs.
Mike Ullrich and Jesse Todd also scored, while Blake Kessel chipped in three assists for the Titans (31-31-8), who continued their late-season success with their fourth straight win and fifth in their last seven.
Kirk MacDonald returned from the reserve list to open the scoring just 15 seconds in, and though Barry Almeida tallied twice and Stan Galiev also lit the lamp, the Royals (46-19-6) couldn’t overcome a sluggish start and saw their eight-game win streak come to a crashing halt.
Brandon Anderson spelled ECHL goalie of the week Riley Gill, but was pulled with what was called a “lower-body injury” after allowing four goals on 18 shots in two periods. He was eventually ruled to have aggravated a prior right ankle injury. Gill entered in the third and gave up one score with 14 saves.
“We’re not thinking about the playoffs right now. We’ve got two games left and we’re not looking past either game,” Anderson said. “But I don’t think we came out strong in the first two periods. We want to hit the 100-point mark, so we’re still playing for that. It’s no use sitting back limping into the playoffs, playing the game the right way and I don’t think we played a good team game tonight as a whole.”
Despite their hot pursuit of a 100-point season, the hosts, who have already locked up the Atlantic Division and the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference came out flat and never recovered.
A sign of how frustrating the night would be, came with just over six minutes remaining in the second period. Facing a 4-1 deficit which was the result of Nagy’s second goal of the evening, Ethan Cox had Wedgewood dead to rights from the left side of the crease, but his redirection never crossed the goal line since the Trenton goaler dove forward and clamped the puck with his glove and stick blade.
The Royals also appeared to have gotten within two goals inside of 15 seconds left in the period, but a wraparound by Galiev that pushed Wedgewood’s body over the goal line and seemed to suggest the puck was over it, was waved off without further review.
In any case, Gill was in the crease to begin the third and Reading showed flashes of brilliance which defined this record-setting season.
Almeida converted a David Vallorani pass for a power-play score to make it 4-2 at the 2:35 mark, and it was a one-goal margin for the visitors at 3:56 as Nikita Kashirsky, MacDonald and Galiev worked a nifty passing play and the latter beat Wedgewood from in close once more.
Still, the worm turned once again, but in Trenton’s favor.
Harper was in perfect position to follow up a Connor Goggin shot, and he converted his second of the contest over a sliding Gill from the right side to make it 5-3 with 8:33 left in regulation.
Reading was in deep only 2 1/2 minutes later, after penalties to Mark Mitera, Joe Sova and Cox provided the Titans with two consecutive 5-on-3 opportunities. Despite several close calls, Gill answered the bell once more to keep his squad in the hunt.
Gill was on the bench in the final minute and the fans were heading for the exits when Almeida provided a brief inkling of a miracle comeback on a score with 27 seconds on the clock, but one shift later, Ullrich found Todd in open ice through the neutral zone, and he hit the clincher from the Reading side of center ice into the empty net.
Wedgewood had one more game-saver in his pocket, or rather, in his glove as he stoned MacDonald right before the insurance tally.
“They’ve got some good offensive players over there,” Anderson coyly said when asked if this was the best Trenton looked all year against Reading. “But I think we still are the better team. We just didn’t show that tonight. It was frustrating at times when you have the kind of team out there and you only play a 20-minute game.”
MacDonald electrified the half-capacity crowd with his 16th goal of the season, right on the doorstep with assists from Alex Berry and Cox, and it looked like the last-place Titans were due for their hot streak to end.
But Harper fed Ullrich for a score from atop the crease shy of the eight-minute mark and Trenton went into the first intermission ahead by a 2-1 count after Nagy converted a Bryan Haczyk pass to cap a short-handed 3-on-1 rush with 5:13 left.
The boos were louder and longer when Harper netted his opener with 4:15 gone in the second period, just after a holding minor to Kashirsky expired, to put the visitors up 3-1.
Nagy toasted a Royals defender and shoved a Todd dish past Wellwood at the 12:26 mark.
Notes: Depending on how the beyond-regulation points are tabulated, Trenton finished 8-6-1 against Reading, while the Royals racked up a 7-5-3 mark against the Titans…Trenton completes its season at Elmira on Friday and in Wheeling on Saturday, while Reading looks to reach the 100-point plateau by welcoming Elmira in the season finale on Saturday…Prior to the game, the ECHL named forward Adam Comrie a second-team All-Star and selected Vallorani as a member of its All-Rookie team. Vallorani entered play with 17 goals and 58 points in 66 games this season…Harper, the co-Player of the Week, upped his totals to nine goals and seven assists in his last five games…His linemate and co-winner Jacob Cepis added an assist, giving him 15 points (5G, 10A) in his last five outings…Captain Yannick Tifu was moved to drop the gloves with new Trenton addition Zach Hervato while down 4-1 in the second period…Attendance was 4,241 which will add slightly to the 3931 average through the first 34 home dates…Titans forward Stephen Schults, who led all Trenton players vs. Reading with 10 goals and 18 points, was held off the scoresheet.