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Plenty at stake in Philly when Rock face Wings in matinee

03/13/2013, 2:45pm EDT
By NLL.com's Rock beat writer Justin Millerson and Wings beat writer Dave Walls

Toronto can clinch playoff spot with help, Philly can earn tiebreaker

The Philadelphia Wings (5-4) host the Toronto Rock (7-3) at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. (Photo: Graig Abel)

The Toronto Rock (7-3) will have a chance to clinch a playoff spot for the fourth-straight season when they take on the Philadelphia Wings (5-4) in a matinee affair at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

 The Rock can clinch a playoff berth with a win on Saturday and a loss by either the Colorado Mammoth (3-7) or Minnesota Swarm (3-7).

Toronto has not missed the postseason since the 2009 season when they finished with a division-worst 6-10 record. That year was one of only two seasons that the Rock did not participate beyond the regular season in franchise history. The other playoff miss came the year before in 2008.

“Clinching a playoff spot is everybody’s first goal,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle, who has made 12 playoff appearances and won six championships in the NLL. “You want to get into the playoffs, you want to seed yourself as best you can.”

The Rock will play Philadelphia for the second time this season and may be looking for a little redemption. In the first meeting between the two teams, Toronto lost by a score of 8-7 after squandering a 7-4 lead in the final quarter before allowing the game-winning in the final seconds.

“I thought we competed well against them in our opening night in Toronto,” said Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson. “But then [Brandon] Miller puts on a display and we had a tough time getting the ball by him.

For the Wings, Miller’s spectacular saves have not only become commonplace, but a necessary means of survival, as scoring has come at a premium this season.

With only 97 goals scored, dead last in the league, Wings head coach and GM Johnny Mouradian points to poor shot selection and clock management by the team’s big scorers.

“They are taking shots they think are good shots, when in reality, they are the shots that the opposing defense is giving us,” Mouradian said. “When you take those type of shots, the probability of them ending up in the net is slim to none.”

While Philadelphia’s offense has been inconsistent, Mouradian feels the offense can be cured by not forcing the action as much.

“We have to get back to our principles, and let things happen naturally by sharing the ball and being unselfish.”

The loss marked Toronto’s fourth loss in their last five games against Philadelphia.

“It’s just one of those things. Some teams are tougher to play against than others,” Sanderson said. “For whatever reason, Philadelphia seems to be that club right now.”

A Wings win this weekend would bring them just a half-game back from the first-place Rock. On the flip side, a Toronto win could make Philadelphia fall to last place in the East Division. The Rock currently have the league’s best record at 7-3.

“We like our record, but we realize if you have one bad weekend, it’s like you start all over again,” Doyle said. “Things can change quickly in this league.”

In each of the last three games, Toronto has come out of the gate slow and trailed heading into the second frame. In the first quarter of their last three games against Calgary, Buffalo and Colorado, the Rock have been outscored 13-7.

“It’s something that we are trying to address,” said Doyle of the slow starts. “But we haven’t figured out the cause of it. I think desperation can certainly play a hand in that. Saturday would be a good opportunity for to play with desperation and prove we can play [off the opening draw].”

Toronto’s second-year player Jesse Gamble won NLL Transition Player of the Week for his three-goal, eight loose ball effort in their 14-10 victory over the Colorado Mammoth. His hat trick goal came in dramatic fashion after he was awarded a penalty shot in the final seconds of the game.

In the win, Gamble surpassed his point and loose ball totals from last season. He now has 61 loose balls (55 in 2012) and 10 points to his total of nine just a season ago. Gamble’s impact has been tremendous this season, enough to hear his name in Transition Player of the Year talks.

Not much was changed to the Rock roster as the trade deadline passed on Wednesday. Toronto made only one deal on deadline day, as they sent the rights of retired Hall of Fame goaltender Steve Dietrich, the current general manager of the Buffalo Bandits, to Buffalo for a sixth-round pick in the 2015 NLL Entry Draft.

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