National television audiences watching Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, and HD Net in the United States could not have been treated to a better game.
The Toronto Rock (9-2) scored the first five goals, the Buffalo Bandits (7-7) scored the next five, and the teams traded goal after goal in a wild fourth quarter that ended with the Rock on top 8-7.
A bi-partisan crowd of 7,948 ? the rowdiest HSBC Arena gathering of the season ? watched Toronto?s Blaine Manning score the game winning goal with 3:57 remaining in regulation time after the Bandits? John Tavares tied the game just minutes prior.
Manning established position in front of the Buffalo net and was taken down by Randy Mearns. As he was falling, the Rock forward took a weak shot that struck the right goalpost, bounced off the back of Buffalo goaltender Steve Dietrich?s leg, and rolled across the goal line.
Manning?s goal answered Tavares? game tying goal that was scored in similar fashion.
Tavares brought the crowd (most of them) - and his team - to their feet when he banked a slow roller off of Rock goaltender Anthony Cosmo?s right leg and into the net as he was taken down by Pat Coyle at the side of the goal.
Cosmo, who started in place of regular keeper Bob Watson, was named the game?s MVP. The net minder made 41 saves while facing 48 shots, and did not allow a goal until the 7:48 mark of the second quarter.
Buffalo goaltender Steve Dietrich had a similar streak to Cosmo. He held the Rock scoreless from 3:48 of the second quarter until 6:23 of the fourth, allowing the Bandits to keep the momentum as they came back from a five goal deficit.
Toronto looked as if they were going to run away with the contest after scoring four goals in 1:43 seconds to open up a 5-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Rock picked up two goals from defenseman Glenn Clark during the run and scored two goals on the power play.
The Bandits, however, went on to tally the game?s next five goals and by 5:40 of the fourth quarter the teams were back to square one.
The loss was another heartbreaker for a Buffalo squad that has lost by two goals or less five times this season. The Bandits battled back to tie the score on three separate occasions but could never take the lead against Toronto.
Colin Doyle led the Rock in points with four (1G, 3A). His teammates Dan Stroup, Clark, and Manning tallied two goals apiece.
Leading the way for the Bandits was Tavares with four points (2G, 2A). He was the only Buffalo player to score more than once as the team picked up goals from six different players.
Things wont get any easier for Buffalo ? who announced Friday that they had signed former Syracuse University lacrosse star Casey Powell to a one-year contract ? as they travel to face the Rochester Knighthawks next Saturday.
The Rock will visit the Molson Centre in Montreal to take on the express on Friday, March 8.