ROCK POST 10-7 COMEBACK WIN OVER BANDITS
Goaltender Duel Between Two Of The Game’s Best
he Toronto Rock (13-5) overcame a 5-1 halftime deficit to defeat the Buffalo Bandits (14-4) in a showdown between the top two teams in the NLL on Saturday night at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY to wrap up the regular season.
It was a duel between the Rock’s Nick Rose and the Bandits’ Matt Vinc, the top two favourites for the NLL Goaltender of the Year Award. And much like the game, it was a back-and-forth battle, but when it mattered most, Rose shut the door on the Bandits and gave his Toronto Rock a chance to come all the way back and beat Buffalo for the second time in three meetings on the season.
“We were really good for the whole game defensively and goaltending wise,” said Rock Head Coach Matt Sawyer. “We struggled offensively in the first half and games like that are going to happen. The message to the team at halftime was that you’re going to have to find ways to win games all different kinds of ways. The most important thing here tonight, while we were struggling, we didn’t let them get away from us.”
Dan Dawson opened the scoring giving the Rock an early lead, but that was it in terms of offence for Toronto in the entire first half. Buffalo held a 2-1 lead after one quarter and a 5-1 edge at the half.
The Rock potted a pair of goals in the third quarter to close the gap to 5-3. The two visitor scores certainly gave the Rock some life and helped to keep the usually wild crowd in Buffalo out of the game. The Bandits did answer Toronto’s third goal with a tally of their own just ten seconds after the second Rock goal to make it 6-3 Buffalo after two.
Captain Challen Rogers netted a power play goal early in the fourth quarter, only to see the Bandits’ Chris Cloutier get that right back 19 seconds later and restore Buffalo’s three-goal lead, 7-4.
With just four goals in 52 minutes, it would have been easy for any team to pack it in, especially if they were facing arguably the greatest goaltender in NLL history in Buffalo’s Vinc. But not these Toronto Rock, and not tonight.
It all started with Brandon Slade picking up a ball and running the length of the floor to find a streaking Tom Schreiber off the bench to make it 7-5. The hustle play from Slade combined with the stick-it-in-the-back-of-the-net attitude Schreiber put on the finish, brought the Rock back to life.
Time? Who needs time? It’s certainly no obstacle for Rogers who scored two goals just 24 seconds apart to tie the game 7-7. The first was a shot so hard most in attendance had to be surprised there wasn’t some damage to the twine. The second was a tight roping of the crease that would have made any big-top performer proud and included one of the hardest fakes you’ll see, buckling Vinc and giving Rogers a gaping cage to fill with the ball.
Following the captain’s heroics, he passed the torch to Schreiber who fired a shot through Vinc that had just enough rotation on the ball to cross the goal line before skipping out, giving the Rock their first lead since Dawson’s game-opening goal. Sheldon Burns on a break and Mitch de Snoo into an empty net rounded out the scoring. In all, the Rock scored six times in the final 7:44 to win the game.
“It’s a game of runs and we just stuck with it,” said Rogers. “Our first half wasn’t our best. That second half mentality was to build momentum through shots, and they started to fall for us, it was a big team win all round.”
The Rock were 2-for-7 on the power play, while the Bandits went 0-for-2 with the man advantage. Toronto was outshot by Buffalo 49-42.
Rogers (3G + 1A) and Dan Craig (1G + 3A) led the Rock scoring attack with four points each.
Schreiber’s two goals ran his total to 47 on the season and left him in a three-way tie for the league’s goal-scoring lead with Albany’s Joe Resetarits and Georgia’s Lyle Thompson. Of the three goal scoring wizards, Schreiber played the least games at 16, while Resetarits played 18 and Thompson played 17.
It was a wild night around the East Conference and while both the Bandits (number one seed) and the Rock (number two seed) were both locked into their playoff positions, the rest of the Conference was flipped upside down.
Halifax defeated Rochester to lock in the third seed and will come to Hamilton to face the Rock at FirstOntario Centre on Friday night in a one-game, winner-takes-all East Conference Semi-Final. In the other East Semi-Final, the Bandits will host the Albany FireWolves on Saturday in Buffalo.
The Georgia Swarm, who could have finished as high as third in the East, were eliminated from the playoffs altogether, losing in overtime to the Philadelphia Wings who have now earned the crossover playoff spot in the West Conference.