Philadelphia's Thomas Hajek is watched by Buffalo's John Tavares on Sunday. Wings players wore jerseys with their Twitter handles. (Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo)
A late flurry of goals helped push the Philadelphia Wings into a tie for the East Division lead.
Sporting their Twitter handles on their jersey nameplates, the Wings got two goals Drew Westrvelt with less than four minutes to play, and held off the Buffalo Bandits 14-13 in front of 8,118 at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday.
The win moved Philadelphia (3-2) into a tie with Toronto atop the East. The teams will meet Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre with the Wings looking for some payback – Philadelphia was held scoreless in the second half of a 15-6 home loss to the Rock on Feb. 4.
Buffalo (2-4) has dropped four straight in one season for the first time since Jan. 9-23, 2010.
Philadelphia led for most of the way Sunday, but the Bandits tied the game at 12 midway through the fourth quarter after scoring three goals in an 87-second span.
The Wings talked during the week about improving their mental approach on the bench after being blown out by Toronto. The strategy seemed to work, as Westervelt snapped the tie with 3:40 left and added an insurance marker with two minutes remaining.
“Our bench was totally different when we saw them come back tonight than it was in the Toronto game when they scored three straight goals. We talk about the mental game – well, we had to work on our mental game,” said Philadelphia head coach and general manager Johnny Mouradian.
“It’s one thing we’ve been working on,” Westervelt added. “The games we’ve lost, we lost control and haven’t answered the other teams’ goals. On the offensive end, everyone on the bench was saying, ‘Lets answer.’”
The game-winner was classic Westervelt. The big righty came off the bench and darted to the net. He collected a pass from Jeff Reynolds and crashed into the crease, putting a shot by backup goalie Angus Goodleaf to make the score 13-12.
“I think it’s just a feel thing,” Westervelt said of his mindset during his diving attempt. “A lot of times, if the timing feels right, I am trying to either beat the goalie by wrapping it around him or if he tries to take away the far post then I bring it back. My thought is to just get through there as hard as I can and use my size.”
Westervelt finished with three goals and an assist, but the big names really dictated Sunday’s outcome for Philadelphia. Dan Dawson had a goal and nine assists and Kevin Crowley added four goals and an assist. Do-it-all Brodie Merrill had a hat trick of his own to go with two assists and 10 loose balls.
“Three goals from Brodie is huge for us,” Westervelt said. “Kevin continues to shoot the ball really well and Dan just keeps us all together.”
Dawson, in particular, seemed dejected after last week’s ugly loss. He said then that he intended to take it upon himself to ensure the team played better.
He backed up his words by having a hand in most of the goals.
“Dan took it hard,” Mouradian said. “He is a marquee ballplayer. Marquee ballplayers know when they’re having challenges with their performance and they are the first to step up and say when they didn’t play well. Dan is truly a professional. He watched the Toronto game film with a stick in his hand.”
After one quarter, the Wings led 3-2. Crowley, who had only two goals and two assists in his last two games, got off to an encouraging start with a top-shelf goal halfway through the frame.
The pace slowed early in the second quarter, with momentum shifting Buffalo’s way. Mat Giles, Brandon Francis and John Tavares scored to give the Bandits their first lead at 5-4 with 4:17 left in the half.
Losing the lead seemed to immediately wakeup the Wings offense. They completely dominated the last five minutes, peppering Bandits goalie Mike Thompson. Crowley scored again to tie it, and Merrill netted two more to seize a 7-5 halftime lead.
Philadelphia picked up where it left off in the third quarter. Crowley scored his third and fourth goals of the night to stretch the lead to 11-6 and send Thompson to the showers. Crowley now has three hat tricks in his first five NLL games.
Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour said pulling Thompson, who was recently named the All-Star starter for the East, was more a reflection of the guys in front of him.
“We’re not playing well in front of him,” an unhappy Kilgour said. “We’re leaving him out to dry. It looks bad on Mike, but it’s not his fault. Every now and then you need to do something to shake the team up.”
Buffalo controlled much of the fourth quarter. The Bandits capitalized on Philadelphia’s lack of discipline, converting five of seven power plays. Chad Culp (two goals, three assists) tied the game at 12 at the 8:53 mark before Westervelt took over.
Tavares (three goals, two assists) and Luke Wiles (goal, five assists) led the Buffalo attack. Wiles said there is not just one thing the Bandits can fix to right the ship.
“We dig ourselves holes and we can’t get out of them. We get back and tie it up, but then they get one real quick. It’s a lot of stuff. We’re not trusting one another right now. Not everybody is on the same page,” he said.
An angry Kilgour agreed when asked what has gone wrong during Buffalo’s skid.
“If I knew, we would have fixed it four games ago,” he said. “We’re trying different things, but right now we’re not a smart team. When you’re not a smart team, teams can take advantage of it.”
The Bandits will have some time to work on a solution. They don’t play until March 3 when they host currently undefeated Colorado.