For the Philadelphia Wings, Friday night?s flight home from Toronto was not as pleasant as the one they took nearly a year ago.
The last time the Wings came to Toronto, they left with the NLL Champions? Cup. But Saturday night, the Rock took one big step towards preventing the same scenario in 2002, blowing out Philadelphia 17-9 before 17,501 hometown fans ? the second largest crowd this season at the Air Canada Centre.
With the win, the Rock improved to 11-4, and clinched a first round bye in the upcoming NLL playoffs. Toronto will host a semifinal playoff game on April 5.
The Wings, who fall to 7-8, need to win their final game, and get some help to make the playoffs. Philadelphia must beat Toronto Saturday night at the First Union Center, and hope that Albany scores a home win over Montreal on Sunday for the team to reach the postseason once again ? they have not missed the playoffs since 1991.
The Rock came out of the gates with revenge on their minds and guns blazing. They opened fire on Wings goaltender Chris Sanderson, scoring the first seven goals of the game. At one point Toronto had more goals (seven) than the Wings had shots (three).
Colin Doyle and Kim Squire each scored twice during Toronto?s impressive start. Squire capped off the 7-0 run with a highlight reel goal, taking a breakaway pass from teammate Glenn Clark, faking Sanderson to the turf, and beating him to the far side.
The Wings finally got on the board in the opening quarter on a goal by Jake Bergey with 2:08 to go. However, with Philadelphia desperately trying to get back in the game, Toronto goaltender Bob Watson was outstanding, finishing the quarter with 11 saves on 12 shots.
Philadelphia finally got their offense going in the second quarter, but could draw no closer than four goals down to the Rock. Still, four down going into halftime would not have been too bad considering the predicament the Wings found themselves in after the first 15 minutes.
Doyle, however, would not allow the Wings to carry any momentum into halftime as he scored with just 1.9 seconds left to close out the second quarter. The Rock forward, who was named the game MVP, caught a pass in front of the Philadelphia net, and with his back to the goal, flung the ball back over his head past Sanderson. The goal gave Toronto a seemingly insurmountable 11-6 halftime advantage.
Insurmountable because of Toronto?s stifling defense, and the play of Watson. The NLL?s goals against average leader shut down the Wings attack for the entire second half, and finishing the game with 39 saves on 48 shots.
Philadelphia?s Mark Millon was the only player to put one past Watson during the third quarter. The Wings forward scored on a weak, one-handed, underhand roller that made the score 14-7 Toronto heading into the final stanza.
Several Rock players lit up the scoreboard. Jim Veltman led the way with six points (1G, 5A). Kim Squire (4G, 1A) and NLL Rookie of the Week Blaine Manning (2G, 3A) each had five points. Doyle scored four points ? all of them goals ? while Steve Toll was his polar opposite with four assists.
Bergey led the Wings with six points (4G, 2A). Teammates Tom Marechek (1G, 3A) and Millon (3G, 1A) each had four points.
The Wings struggled between the pipes all game, although neither goaltender received much help. Sanderson, the reigning NLL Defensive Player of the Week, played three quarters, stopping 37 of 51 shots. Nick Schroeder replaced Sanderson to start the fourth, was scored on twice in his first three shots, and finished with four saves.