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Rock to defend NLL title after clinching playoff berth

04/07/2012, 5:27pm EDT
By Justin Millerson, Toronto Rock beat writer for NLL.com

Manning's return sparks Toronto to 12-8 win over Edmonton

Blaine Manning watched the last 10 games in street clothes, but on Saturday night, he made his long-awaited return to Toronto’s lineup.

By the time the night was over, the Rock were all alone atop the East Division and headed back to the playoffs to defend their NLL title.

Manning had a goal and assist in his first game back to help the Rock defeat the Edmonton Rush 12-8 in front of 14,060 at the Air Canada Centre.

“It was nice,” Manning said after helping Toronto improve to 6-0 all-time at home over Edmonton. “It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, I felt a little behind, but it was good to get out there and get my feet wet.”

Manning missed nearly three months after suffering a broken collarbone in Week 2 against Buffalo.  Though he’s been back for one game, Manning said he may need to work on his reflexes.

“I felt all right, the game was a little too quick there, I’ve haven’t been able to play any contact yet, so when you add contact everything gets a little quicker,” he said.

Manning scored his first goal since the season opener 5:57 into the third quarter for his 800th career point. He now joins Colin Doyle (1,161) and Josh Sanderson (1,068) as active Toronto players to have reached the milestone.

“Having [Manning] back feels good, he’s the backbone of this team,” said Doyle. “He will only get better from here.”

With their third straight win, the Rock (7-6) moved one-half game ahead of Philadelphia in the East. The Wings had been a game up on Toronto heading into Week 14, but lost at home to Minnesota on Friday and at Buffalo on Saturday.

“We’ve worked for it, [we were] 4-6 three games ago, we got booed off our own floor,” said Toronto head coach Troy Cordingley. “I think that was a wake-up call for all of us … we’ve put time in and looked in the mirror and we got some results.”

Edmonton opened the scoring just 2:44 into the game and carried a 3-2 lead midway through the second quarter. Toronto woke up in dramatic fashion scoring six straight goals in in the final 5:53 of the half.

That outburst was capped by Doyle’s marker with 15 seconds to play followed by Stephen Hoar’s tally 11 seconds later.

Toronto kept the pressure on in the second half, getting goals from Kasey Beirnes, Doyle and Manning to make it 11-3, but Edmonton wasn’t finished. The Rush scored the final four goals of the third quarter, the last of which completed Ryan Ward’s hat trick. Corey Small notched his second of the game with 4:40 to play, drawing Edmonton within three but Doyle finished off the scoring less than a minute later.

“We had some breakdowns defensively, uncharacteristic breakdowns and on offense we tried to get it all back at one time,” said Edmonton head coach and general manager Derek Keenan. “Eight goals is not enough.”

Rush goaltender Aaron Bold finished with 23 saves on 34 shots while backup Brodie MacDonald let in the only shot he faced.

Nick Rose made 36 saves on 44 shots in his first home start with Toronto. Since being acquired from Calgary at last month’s trading deadline, Rose has allowed only 14 goals in Toronto’s last three wins.

“It’s the style a defense we play,” said Rose. “[The defense] is giving me the shots I like to see and when that happens we are going to be successful.”

Garrett Billings, the reigning Offensive Player of the Week and co-winner of Player of the Month for March, continued his hot streak with a goal and six assists giving him 92 points. Billings has not scored fewer than seven points since the Rock lost to Washington on March 3.

“[Billings] is so good, he’s magical out there, that the only thing you can say,” said Cordingley.



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