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Easter-n weekend for the Rock

03/26/2013, 5:45pm EDT
By Justin Millerson, Rock beat writer for NLL.com

Toronto rocks Buffalo 18-11 on Friday, visits Rochester on Saturday

With the NLL's top record, the Toronto Rock (9-4) can clinch a home playoff game with a win in Rochester on Saturday night. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

The Toronto Rock (9-4) headed into Week #13 a little more humbled but rebounded with a convincing 18-11 home win over the Buffalo Bandits (5-8) on Friday night.

The Rock can clinch a home playoff game with a road win over the Rochester Knighthawks (4-6) on Saturday night at The Blue Cross Arena. Toronto can clinch the East Division regular season title with a win over Rochester and a loss by the Philadelphia Wings to the Colorado Mammoth.

Heading into last weekend with a league-best 8-3 record, the Rock’s good fortune stopped – at least temporarily – last Sunday when the Edmonton Rush rolled past the Rock by a score of 17-12 in Toronto.

Following the loss, the coaching staff called it one of their worst defeats in recent memory.

“There’s no way we should have been manhandled like that in our own building,” said Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson. “It was embarrassing for us to put forth that kind of effort.”

The 17 goals allowed by the Rock marked a season-high with a previous high of 15 in a loss to the Buffalo Bandits on Feb. 28.

 “I think people need to face the facts…[Edmonton] is probably the best team in the league right now,” Sanderson said.

The Rock will now look to rebound on a back-to-back weekend with games against division opponents in the Buffalo Bandits (5-7) and the Rochester Knighthawks (4-6), two teams that Toronto has handled well this season. The Rock are a combined 3-1 against the two teams and will look to improve that record, in part, to forget about the convincing loss last weekend.

“We just got to move on from that [loss], nothing we can say or do or practice,” Sanderson said.

Friday night's game aired live on TSN2 in Canada, ESPN3 in the U.S., and on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network outside North America.

The game also aired on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh (DIRECTV: Channel 659 and Dish Network: Channel 428), ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain (DIRECTV: Channel 683 and Dish Network: Channel 414), ROOT Sports Northwest (DIRECTV: Channel 687 and Dish Network: Channel 426), and on The Comcast Network in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In their last meeting at the end of February, the Bandits defeated the Rock 15-12 and at the time, the win for Buffalo had them only a half game back out of first place in the East Division. But the Bandits have since lost four straight games.

Despite Buffalo’s struggles, the Rock will be no less prepared against their longtime rival.

“Buffalo poses a different kind of game we’re going to be facing on Friday night,” Sanderson said. “Even though we know them quite well, we are going to have to study…and hopefully bring forth the right game plan.”

Toronto will play Buffalo for the third time this season with the season series knotted at one win a piece.

On the second leg of their back-to-back, the Rock will travel to Rochester on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. ET game at The Blue Cross Arena with the Knighthawks, who will try to bounce back from a loss of their own to Edmonton before a bye week last weekend. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

The two teams have only played once before this season and Toronto came up as the victor with an 11-7 win in Rochester on Jan. 26.

Toronto goalie Nick Rose had perhaps his most impressive performance of the season in the win. On 47 shots, Rose allowed just seven goals and posted an .851 save percentage.   

The Knighthawks, in the midst of what has been a polarizing season for the defending champs, are coming off two solid performances in a row. On March 2, the Knighthawks defeated the Colorado Mammoth on the road to snap a two-game losing skid and despite the 11-9 loss to Edmonton in Week #11, Rochester outscored the Rush in three of the four quarters.

“You get an opportunity to watch every team in this league and we’ve gotten the opportunity to watch Rochester,” Sanderson said. “We think their game is getting back to where I expected it would be.”

“[Rochester] is always a tough place to play,” said Rock veteran forward Blaine Manning.

Toronto’s backup goalie Zack Boychuk served his longest stint in net against the Rush last week. Coming on in relief of Nick Rose in the second quarter, Boychuk allowed just eight goals on 31 shots for a solid .742 save percentage during his 43:22 of play.

“The good thing about our game on Sunday was the fact that young Boychuk got in for a good amount of time and show up quite well,” Sanderson said.

The Rock can clinch a first-round playoff game at home with two wins this weekend and can also clinch the East Division regular season title with a weekend sweep and two losses by the Philadelphia Wings (5-5). On a western road swing, the Wings will take on the Minnesota Swarm on Friday before visiting the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday.

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