The Johnstown Chiefs, their coaches and the team’s fans had experienced third periods such as this often this season.
But this time, Johnstown, rather than the opposition, was doing the scoring, and the five-goal outburst was cause for a celebration among 2,700 fans at Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Friday night.
The Chiefs beat the Toledo Walleye 7-4 on the strength of a pair of power-play goals, a well-placed rebound and two empty-netters during a five-goal third period.
“Unbelievable,” Chiefs coach Neil Smith said. “It was like a juxtaposition, a role reversal. It’s usually us giving them the 5-on-3s and they beat us. It’s bittersweet. You enjoy it so much, and you can’t help but wonder why couldn’t we have put in those kinds of efforts all season? You’ve just got to enjoy it.”
The Chiefs halted a five-game losing streak and won their 10th home game of the season with three contests remaining at the War Memorial until the team moves to Greenville, S.C.
“It was nice for the fans,” Smith said.
“You could really hear them getting excited and being happy. When we went down 3-0 there was that collective sigh in the building, ‘Oh, gosh. Here we go again.’ But it was never negative in the locker room and never negative on the bench. We just kept pushing ahead.”
Toledo scored the game’s first three goals. Mike Hedden and Sal Peralta each converted power plays, and Evan Rankin tallied unassisted against Kris Mayotte at 17:13 of the first.
The Chiefs comeback began 33 seconds later, when Jeff Martens scored.
Forward Dan Collins, back after missing two months due to a broken hand, really put the Chiefs in contention by scoring short-handed 6:26 into the second. Sean Berkstresser assisted on the momentum-swaying goal.
“The biggest spark was Collins and Berkstresser getting that short-handed goal,” Smith said. “All of a sudden everybody went, ‘Maybe we are in this thing.’ ”
Toledo made it 4-2 on Chris Robertson’s power-play goal 4:05 into the third.
But after multiple skirmishes broke out at 4:59, the Chiefs ended up with a two-minute, 5-on-3 advantage.
Fitzpatrick scored at 6:01, with an assist by Collins, who had four points and a plus-4 rating.
“The 5-on-3, we had one before the third period and it didn’t click as well as we wanted it to,” Fitzpatrick said. “We discussed it after the second period and we decided to go back to something original that we did before. It seemed to work.”
Connor Shields converted the second half of the power play 11 seconds later as Troy Schwab and Russ Sinkewich had assists on the game-tying tally.
Collins netted the game-winner with a rebound goal after Berkstresser’s shot clanged off the crossbar at 8:08.
Jim McKenzie and Fitzpatrick each hit the empty net to set the final, with Fitzpatrick scoring his 30th goal of the season.
“It’s like Christmastime when you’re 5 years old,” Collins said. “The feeling of just winning a game for the fans was special because obviously they know we’re leaving and we’d like to win every game in front of them from here on out.”