Just two weeks ago, the Johnstown Tomahawks had earned points in five straight games, with four victories during that span.
Not so long ago, Johnstown had moved into a tie for second place in the NAHL North Division.
Since then, the Tomahawks have dropped four straight in regulation and five games overall, including Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Janesville Jets in front of a sellout crowd of 3,721 at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
After being swept by the Jets during two home dates, the Tomahawks are in a logjam in the division with seven games remaining.
“We’re in a spot where we control our own destiny and it’s been like that for a while,” Johnstown coach Jason Spence said. “If we don’t pull our socks up, it’s going to be too late.”
The Tomahawks (26-23-4) have 56 points. Fourth-place Janesville (26-23-3) closed within a point of the third-place Hawks, who are five points behind second-place Michigan.
Fifth-place Soo won on Saturday and has 53 points, just three back of Johnstown.
The top four teams in the division advance to the Robertson Cup playoffs.
“This was huge,” Janesville coach Joe Dibble said. “With this team, the Tomahawks, to sweep them is a huge, huge accomplishment. They’re a good club. They gave us everything that we expected and more.
“Sometimes the bounces just go a different way. For us, we were fortunate enough to get a couple bounces and the hockey gods were looking down on us a little bit.”
Neither team scored in the opening period.
Janesville’s Kyle Patava broke the drought only 44 seconds into the middle period.
The Tomahawks outshot the Jets 17-9 in the second period and had several excellent scoring opportunities during a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 51 seconds.
“Anytime in a game when you can kill off a 5-on-3 it gives you momentum and gives your team a little more confidence,” Dibble said. “Our goaltender made some big saves and we did a good job of keeping the shots on the perimeter.”
Johnstown’s Shane Cuckovich netted his fourth goal of the season with 1:56 remaining in the second. Zach Wallace assisted on the game-tying tally.
“We did a very good job in the second period,” Spence said. “But we’ve got to be able to do it consistently. That’s been our fallback. We’ve got to be able to get it done.”
Once again, the Jets netted a goal in the opening minute of the third period. This time, Jordan Himley scored his 21st of the season at 46 seconds.
“It’s a letdown when the other team scores right away, but you have to find a way to put that aside and go get a goal of your own,” Spence said.
Dibble can relate. The Jets are on a four-game winning streak. Janesville opened the season at 1-4-1 and later had a six-game losing streak in January.
“At the beginning of the year that was the opposite,” Dibble said. “We were getting scored upon in the first five minutes. That’s something we’ve tried to change. We’ve made a point that the first five minutes, we have to own. That’s something that helped us win both games this weekend.”
The Jets outshot the Tomahawks 31-26. Janesville goaltender Logan Halladay had 25 saves in his 16th win. Johnstown’s Alex Okicki stopped 29 shots as his record went to 19-14-2.
The Tomahawks had their ninth crowd of 3,000 or more this season, and the third sellout. Johnstown is 3-4-2 in those games, and 1-1-1 playing in front of a home sellout crowd.
“Allowing goals in the first minute. Not scoring on a 5-on-3. Those type of things are letdowns,” Spence said. “We had chances to score. When you don’t cash in those chances they can come back and bit you in the butt.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.