There is no doubt now that the team that finished second last season is the best squad this year.
In the battle of the top two teams from both the National Lacrosse League Western and Eastern Divisions, the Toronto Rock reign supreme after their 9-8 overtime victory over the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The Roughnecks (4-3) dominated early on, taking a 6-3 lead over the Rock at halftime. However like the theme in most NLL games this season, it was a tale of two halves as Toronto’s offense and defense stepped up, scoring five goals while allowing only two in the final 30 minutes.
"I just said continue doing what you're doing,” Toronto (5-2) head coach Troy Cordingley told his team at halftime.
Unfortunately the second half didn’t begin great for the Rock as Ryan Sharp went down with a leg injury and didn’t return to the contest.
With one of their own down, the Rock offense began to pecker Roughneck goaltender Mike Poulin with shots, firing a total of 14 in the third quarter. The balls started to go past the Calgary goalie as Toronto tied the game with three goals in a matter of 2:23 in the quarter. The Rock then took their first lead since the first goal of the game with a Blaine Manning power play goal late in the third stanza.
Toronto’s power play went 2-4 in the game, a huge improvement after the team had struggled to score with the man advantage the past couple of games.
The third quarter was clearly Poulin’s toughest, but he didn’t get much help from his offense as they were only able to fire five shots on Toronto goaltender Bob Watson, who finished with 26 saves in the game.
Colin Doyle extended the Rock’s lead to two goals with his second of the game eight minutes into the fourth quarter.
After allowing five straight Toronto goals, the Calgary offense came to life late in the contest with Jeff Shattler scoring his second of the night on the power play with under four minutes to play, and Curtis Dickson tallying his second of the game as well, but with 49 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at eight.
Even though Calgary’s late comeback was impressive, Toronto got the better of the Roughnecks in the extra frame as Aaron Pascas scored 4:33 into overtime to give the Rock the best record in the NLL.
"I'm getting gray hairs, I'll tell you that," Cordingley said of his team’s third OT game this season. "But it's ok to get a win and be on the good side."
Roughnecks head coach Dave Pym wasn’t pleased with his team’s overall performance after the game, even though his squad played solid in the first half and late in the game.
"Our execution just wasn't there," said Pym, whose team was coming off a bye week. "I think we showed some rust having been off for a couple weeks. When you are playing a team with the pressure D that they bring, it exacerbates that execution a little bit. We created some opportunities and chances but we just couldn't catch the ball."
The Roughnecks and the Rock will meet for the final time during the regular season on Mar. 25 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, and if all goes well for both teams, maybe in the NLL Champions Cup final.
Next weekend Toronto will play a home-and-home series against the Rochester Knighthawks with first place in the East on the line while Calgary will take on the Edmonton Rush.
Here is a look at the other Week 6 National Lacrosse League games.
Rush Finally Get Wins in Sweep over Stealth
Going into this weekend’s home-and-home series against the defending NLL Champions, the Edmonton Rush looked like their season was on the brink of disaster. Oh, how two days can change everything.
The Rush won both games over the Washington Stealth and leaped over Colorado to take fourth place in the Western Division standings after being in the cellar all season. Edmonton won 14-12 on Friday at home and held on for the 15-14 victory on Saturday in Everett, Wash.
Edmonton’s Brodie Merrill said it was good to finally get in the win column after going winless to start the season.
"Being 0-and-5, it's almost overwhelming," said Merrill, who finished with two goals and eight assists over the two games. "It feels pretty good to get a couple wins this weekend."
Next Friday Washington (3-5) will host the Colorado Mammoth while Edmonton (2-5) will look for revenge against Calgary, who has already defeated the Rush twice this season.
Bandits Embarrass Wings In Own Building
Buffalo’s John Tavares was one goal shy of his 700th going into Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Wings. However he wasn’t satisfied with just reaching that milestone in the game - so he scored five to securely surpass it.
Tavares’ five goals, four assists performance led the way for the Bandits as Buffalo ran Philadelphia out of their home arena with a dominating 16-7 victory.
Chad Culp and Mark Steenhuis also had good nights for the Bandits (4-2) as Culp finished with four goals and three assists while Steenhuis scored twice and added three assists as well.
Buffalo has now won two games in a row and head coach Darris Kilgour said he thinks his team is starting to get into a rhythm.
"I think we're just starting to get going," Kilgour said. "We're shooting a lot better. We're creating a little bit more and working more as a team.”
The Bandits will look to make it three in a row next week as they’ll host the Wings (3-4) in the two team’s final meeting of the year on Saturday at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.
Blazers Offense Rolls as Mammoth Lose Fourth in a Row
The 2011 Colorado Mammoth are looking a lot like the 2010 squad—only worse.
Colorado lost their fourth game in a row, and this time it was in an 11-6 loss to the Boston Blazers at TD Garden in Boston. With Edmonton winning twice this past weekend, the Mammoth take possession of fifth place in the Western Division at 1-5 while the Blazers sit in fourth in the East with a 5-3 mark.
Boston’s fourth place mark is deceiving however, as they are one of the first teams in the league to reach the halfway point of their season and only sit one-half game back from first place in the Eastern Division.
Josh Sanderson led the Blazers in scoring in the game with three goals while Nick Cotter and Damon Edwards each found the back of the net twice on Saturday night. Dan Carey and John Grant Jr. both had two goals and two assists for the Mammoth.
Next week Boston faces a tough Minnesota Swarm squad and Sanderson said the team will need to be ready to face an equally capable offense on the road.
“It was really good and we are happy with the win, but we have to get a lot better going into Minnesota,” Sanderson said. “Obviously they are one of the best teams in the [Western Division] and we just have to keep getting better."
Colorado will play two games next weekend, Friday night in Everett, Wash. against the Stealth and Sunday night at home against the Swarm.
Big Fourth Quarter Lifts Knighthawks Past Swarm
When the Minnesota Swarm needed a goal in the fourth quarter, they were denied by Matt Vinc. The Rochester Knighthawk goaltender made nine saves in the final period and 35 overall to help Rochester comeback and get the 12-10 win over Minnesota in front of their home crowd.
Minnesota was down 6-4 at the half, but the Swarm scored six in the third to take the 10-9 lead entering the final quarter. The Swarm held that lead until seven minutes remained in the game when the Knighthawks scored three times in a matter of 2:36 to retake the lead.
“We talk about principles all the time. We just went back to our principles,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen on his team’s mentality in the fourth quarter.
Craig Point and Shawn Evans both finished with six point nights (three goals and three assists each) for the Knighthawks while Ryan Benesch led the Swarm in scoring with four goals and one assist.
In his first game in a Minnesota uniform after being traded from Colorado, Jamie Shewchuk ended his night with two goals and one assist.
The Knighthawks have now won two straight and will have the opportunity to take first place in the Eastern Division if they win both of their games this weekend against Toronto. After winning three straight, the Swarm are on a two game losing streak and will look to get back in the win column as they’ll play at home against Boston on Saturday and then on the road on Sunday in Colorado.