If Saturday night?s game between the Toronto Rock and Rochester Knighthawks was a true playoff preview, it is easy to see why Knighthawks? fans are practically drooling over the thought of their team?s first home playoff game since 1995.
Before an electric season-high crowd of 10,421 ? near capacity for Rochester?s 11,000-seat Blue Cross Arena ? the Knighthawks rallied from a four goal deficit after the first quarter to beat Toronto 16-14.
With the win, Rochester completed the home portion of their regular season schedule with a perfect 8-0 record, and improved to 12-3 on the year. The Knighthawks kept their hopes of a Central Division title alive as well, a win in their final game against Columbus coupled with an Albany loss in their last game against Montreal would give Rochester the title and a first round bye in the NLL playoffs.
Rochester all-star forward John Grant had an incredible night. On top of being named the game?s MVP, Grant set new team records for goals, assists, and points with his six-goal, five-assist performance.
Not even the mighty Rock defense, the NLL?s best, could stop the Knighthawks, the league?s most potent offensive club, on this night. Rochester came into the fourth quarter trailing by two, and rallied for six goals, ending the quarter and the game with their 16-14 advantage.
The game-winner came off the stick of Tim Soudan, but the game-breaking goal was scored by Rochester?s Shawn Williams. Williams bounced a shot into the top right corner of the net past Rock goaltender Bob Watson to give the K-Hawks their first lead since early in the first quarter at 14-13 with 2:48 remaining.
Moments later, the K-Hawks would ride the wave of momentum to a two-goal lead when Soudan scored to make it 15-13.
A shorthanded goal by Toronto?s Colin Doyle brought the Rock back to within one and provided some anxious moments. But Toronto, with Watson pulled for the extra attacker and still shorthanded, lost the ensuing face-off. The K-Hawks wasted some time, and eventually dumped it in the empty net to seal the deal.
In the early going, it looked as if strong defense would prevail over powerful offense. The Rock held a 6-2 advantage after the first quarter behind strong goaltending by Watson and an unstoppable power play. In the quarter, the Rock went three for three with the man advantage.
Grant, however, would lead his club back into the game in the second quarter. He scored two goals in the stanza, including a no-look, over the shoulder goal with his back to the net that brought the huge crowd to its feet ? once they re-set their jaws. By halftime, Rochester had clawed back in the contest, trailing by one, 8-7, and setting the stage for the dramatic second half.
The Rock, who are now 0-5 in Rochester, fell to 10-4. They have already won the NLL?s Northern Division, clinching the title with last night?s win over New York. The team appeared sluggish in the second half, playing their second of back-to-back games. Toronto finishes their season with a home-and-home series against the defending champion Philadelphia Wings next weekend.
Grant was not the only K-Hawk to put up big offensive numbers. Williams had seven points (4G, 3A), and Derek Malawsky had six (1G, 5A).
Doyle paced the Rock with six points (4G, 2A). He was helped by teammates Jim Veltman (1G, 4A) and Kim Squire (2G, 2A), who had five and four points respectively.