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Gibson's game-winner lifts Tomahawks to OT triumph over Titans

Jan. 6—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Following the conclusion of his team's previous series against New Jersey, Johnstown Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia noted that he expected every future matchup against the Titans this season to be a heated battle from start to finish.

The two teams, which split their first four matchups, lived up to Letizia's prediction on Friday night.

After Johnstown surrendered a two-goal advantage, the Tomahawks battled back to force overtime before Justin Gibson's tally with 10 seconds remaining in the extra frame gave the hosts a 4-3 victory in front of 1,565 fans at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.

"Against these guys, it's a 60-minute war," Letizia said. "Today, it was more than 60 minutes.

"Every game this year against them has been close. We know it's not over until the end."

The win moves Johnstown (18-13-2, 38 points) into third place in the East Division standings after Northeast (37 points) fell to Philadelphia 6-4.

New Jersey (17-13-2, 36 points) now holds sole possession of fifth place after getting one point in the overtime loss. The two teams will square off again at 7 p.m. Saturday, with Johnstown looking to claim a series sweep and extend its three-game winning streak.

"We knew it was going to be emotional coming in," Gibson said. "They were right behind us in the standings, and we didn't want to give up our position. We played physical, kept our composure, and just got the job done tonight."

Right off the bat in the overtime period, Johnstown gave New Jersey a man-advantage after Tomahawks forward Will Moore took a hooking penalty just 40 seconds into the frame.

The Tomahawks killed off the penalty with the help of goaltender Jacob Osborne, who made a save on a 2-on-1 rush and stopped three shots in succession after New Jersey peppered the net on the power play.

Osborne compiled 35 saves and picked up his third straight win in net to improve to 15-4-1 on the season.

"Penalties were detrimental for us earlier in the game with them getting two power play goals," Letizia said.

"Our penalty kill had to show up, and they did a great job. (Osborne) stepped up and made some big saves during that kill. They say your goaltender is your biggest penalty killer, and he showed that."

With time winding down in overtime, Tomahawks defenseman Lukas Klemm forced a turnover at the blue line and found Gibson on a rush up the right side.

Gibson skated past two New Jersey defenders and buried the game-winner over the glove of Titans goalie Dylan Krick.

"The big kill brought some life into us," Gibson said. "We had guys on the ice that have good connections with each other, and Klemm found me with a nice pass. I'm glad I was able to covert on that rush and get us the win."

Letizia noted that having two defensemen in Gibson and Klemm on the ice during a 3-on-3 overtime period isn't a normal strategy, but stuck with it due to the pair's chemistry.

"We did that to try and be a little more defensive after the penalty," Letizia said.

"Of course, they're the two that connected on the game-winner. That's the ability that both Lukas and Justin have to have to get things done on the ice."

Johnstown jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the first period after Hayes Hundley and Zach Aben both found the back of the net. Aben, the Tomahawks leading scorer, was playing in his first game since Dec. 9.

New Jersey answered with three consecutive goals, tallying one before the end of the first period and adding two more in the second.

The Titans' lead held for more than a 20-minute stretch until Chase Sandhu tied the game for Johnstown with 4:28 left in the third period.

"We expect another intense battle tomorrow," Letizia said. "We just have to make sure we're better."