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Knighthawks advance to first Champion's Cup Final since 2007

05/12/2012, 6:35pm EDT
By Justin Millerson, Toronto Rock beat writer for NLL.com

Rochester defeats Toronto 17-13 for first playoff win in five tries at Air Canada Centre

After a defensive gem last week, Toronto wasn’t able to follow up with one in the East Divisional Final. As a result, the Rock won’t get a chance to win back-to-back National Lacrosse League titles.

The Rock fell to the Rochester Knighthawks 17-13 on Saturday night – their first loss in five home playoff games against their division rivals.  

The big difference in what turned out to be the Rock’s season finale was goaltending. After a stellar shutdown performance on May 5 in a 7-6 win over Buffalo in a division semifinal, Nick Rose couldn’t find his groove and allowed 14 goals on 36 shots.

“It definitely hurts, there’s not much to say,” said Rose, who suffered his first playoff loss seven days after notching his first career postseason win.

The 14 goals allowed were a season high for Rose, who posted a solid 6-1 record coming into Saturday’s game.  He was pulled for the first time on the night 4:36 into the third quarter after Cody Jamieson gave the Knighthawks a 10-5 lead with his second goal.

“They came out with a game plan and they executed, they just had a lot of firepower that we couldn’t contain and that’s how it goes,” said Rose.

Although Rochester led 7-5 at halftime, it pulled away with 10 second-half goals. Three of those were scored by Cory Vitarelli, who finished with a team-high four.

 “I think we had our legs under us and we stuck to it,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “They were dropping for us, we were on a roll, it was just one of those nights.”

The Rock weren’t able to overcome Matt Vinc, who set a career playoff high with 51 saves on 64 shots – 20 coming from Garrett Billings, who scored one goal and drew six assists. Vinc’s performance not only gave him the game’s most valuable player award, but also served as key factor in Rochester’s success. 

“It was all confidence early, our team did a good job of eliminating their good looks in the first quarter and it kind of let me settle down,” said Vinc.

Toronto had won all three matchups with Rochester this season and the last eight head-to-head meetings, but couldn’t win the one that mattered most.

“We kept up all year with [Rochester], we liked the matchup, but they played hard tonight,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle who finished with three goals and two assists. “They hit their shots when they needed too and that what championship teams do.”

Despite the loss, Toronto head coach Troy Cordingley commended his team’s ability to persevere this season. 

“I’m proud of our guys. We battled so many injuries this year, more than any other team. A lot of people doubted us and our guys just have so much character, we battled to the bitter end,” said Cordingley.

The Knighthawks will try to win the Champion’s Cup for the first time since 2007 when they face Edmonton at 7:30 p.m. ET next Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., in a game that will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

Edmonton reached the title game for the first time in franchise history with a 15-3 rout of Minnesota on Saturday.

For a photo gallery of the game, click here.

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