Colorado Mammoth forward John Grant, Jr. passed Gary Gait in Week #13 to become the third all-time leading scorer in NLL history. (Photo: Jack Dempsey)
The streaking Edmonton Rush (8-5) certainly earned the weekend off while the rest of the league was in action with five games in Week #13 of the 2013 NLL regular season. There was a little bit of everything on Friday and Saturday night, from individual efforts and milestones to Top 10 plays and thrilling finishes, as the playoff race heats up down the stretch.
Leading 7-6 at halftime, the Toronto Rock (9-5) scored nine unanswered goals to start the second half in an 18-11 home win over the Buffalo Bandits (5-8) before a crowd of 11,546 at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night.
“We laid down,” Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour told the Buffalo News. “Here you go. Kick us.”
Once 5-3 in the standings and just seconds away from a sixth win that turned into an overtime loss, Buffalo has now dropped five straight games.
“You keep trying to change the message, try to say the same things in different ways so guys will understand it,” Kilgour said. “You start questioning yourself. I’m questioning myself. What am I going to do? Ask for advice from the guys. It’s very frustrating."
At the bottom of the league standings, the Bandits are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time in Kilgour's tenure as head coach. But with two of their three remaining games against teams with losing records ahead on the schedule, Buffalo can improve their playoff chances significantly.
“We can’t wait to muster anything. We’ve got to put together some wins now,” Bandits transition player Jay Thorimbert said. “Rochester and Minnesota are in the exact same position...We’ve got to get going or we’ll be in trouble.”
For Toronto, the win marked a nice rebound from their blowout loss at home against the Rush in Week #12.
“We couldn’t have been any lower last week,” Rock captain Doyle told the Toronto Star. “We had a chance to get back to it tonight and we proved that we’re a lot better than that.”
“We had four days to think about how we played and how we performed in front of our home crowd (last week) and we all knew it just wasn’t acceptable,” said veteran Kasey Beirnes.
With a chance to clinch the East Division regular season title on Saturday night, the Rock fell 12-8 to the Rochester Knighthawks (5-6) at The Blue Cross Arena, marking their first regular season road loss over their division rivals since Jan. 20, 2010.
Former Knighthawks goaltender and current goalie coach Pat O’Toole, who spent 12 seasons with the team and finished as the franchise’s all-time leader in almost every statistical category in net, was inducted to the team’s Hall of Fame during a pregame ceremony.
“Hearing Patty talk about his family and teammates gave me goosebumps and you really realize the importance of playing this game,” Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc told the Rochester D&C. “It gave us a lift, definitely gave me a lift to see what he meant to this city."
Vinc, who currently leads the NLL with a 9.98 goals against average and .808 save percentage this season, continued his stellar play by making 47 saves on 55 shots in the win. Several of the goals that Vinc allowed came via behind-the-back and between-the-legs goals by Toronto.
“He played well, he’s seeing the ball, and I think the defense did a really good job of keeping the ball to the outside,” said Knighthawks captain Sid Smith. “They had to score highlight-reel goals to beat him tonight, so you have to give him credit. Nothing was easy for them.”
After Toronto pulled within 7-5 early in the fourth quarter, Rochester scored three straight goals in 45 seconds to pull away and snap a three-game home losing streak.
"Those few minutes and the fact their goaltender was outstanding," Rock head coach Troy Cordingley told The Canadian Press about why they lost. "We competed. We were good enough to win. Sometimes the games don't go your way."
Neither of the back-to-back road games went well for the Philadelphia Wings (5-7), who had a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a weekend sweep.
On Friday night, the Minnesota Swarm (5-7) dominated the second half for a 20-11 win over the visiting Wings at Xcel Energy Center.
With the score tied 5-5 at halftime, Minnesota outscored the Wings 15-6 over the final two quarters, setting franchise records with nine fourth-quarter tallies and 15 second-half goals.
“We came in at halftime and coach [Joe Sullivan] kind of put us in our place,” Swarm transition player Jordan MacIntosh told NLL.com. “I thought we answered well.”
With Wings goalie Angus Dineley making his first career start in place of starter Brandon Miller, who was serving a one-game suspensions, it was the team's effort that resulted in the loss according to Philadelphia's general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian.
“They outworked us in the second half when we should have to outwork them to be successful,” he said. “We just had mental errors of omission. We lost where the ball was, we lost where the player was, next thing you know, the ball was in our net.”
One bright spot for Philadelphia was when defenseman Brett Manney saved a ball from rolling into the net with a desperation stick save on the goal line, a highlight that earned the top spot on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays segment.
On Saturday night, the Wings found out that a perfect second half doesn't necessarily guarantee a victory. Despite being shut out over the final 30 minutes of the game, the Colorado Mammoth (5-8) beat Philadelphia with a 10-9 home win before a crowd of 15,292 at Pepsi Center.
“We played three good quarters," Mouradian told NLL.com. "We let them score some easy goals…but you have to look at [how] we shut them out in the second half. We had a lot of opportunities, but we have to be better as a team.”
John Grant, Jr. finished with five points (2+3) on the night and surpassed Gary Gait (1,165) for third on the NLL all-time scoring list behind John Tavares (1,627) and Colin Doyle (1,260).
Despite the accomplishment, the 2012 NLL MVP was more focused on how his team played as a whole.
“We tried everything offensively to give that one away,” Grant, Jr. said. “We’ve got to figure out what to do to be successful in the second half. That’s two weeks in a row we gave up big leads. I mean a win is a win, and we definitely needed it, but we’ve got some work to do.”
A wild finish capped off the action this weekend as the Calgary Roughnecks (8-5) scored seven fourth-quarter goals and took advantage of a late major penalty to move into first place in the West Division with a 13-11 road win over the Washington Stealth (7-6) at Comcast Arena on Saturday night.
Down 10-8 midway through the fourth quarter, the Roughnecks went on the power play after Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards was assessed a five-minute high sticking major, which he was forced to serve himself by rule.
"It all kind of happened pretty quick, but from what I recall, [Roughnecks forward Dane Dobbie] came through and took a shot to my right side and followed his shot through," Richards told the Everett Herald. "So I was just protecting myself and I think I got him in the chest and he kind of threw his head back and made it look pretty good."
The incident marked the second time this season that Richards has been forced to serve a major penalty. When these teams last met on Feb. 23, Richards took a similar penalty that allowed the Roughnecks to get back in the game but it didn't cost Washington the win that time.
“The one last time we played, I definitely deserved it. It was something I blatantly did, I lost my cool," Richards told NLL.com. “This one, I was just trying to not get injured. The ref saw one thing. I don’t agree with what they called but that’s the call and it’s something that we have to live with. It isn’t going to change now so we have to move on.”
Having your star goalie serve a five-minute major in the crucial final minutes of the game can cost you, especially against Calgary's top-rated power play unit, which has converted 67% of their opportunities this year.
“That’s really why you practice your power play," said Roughnecks assistant coach Bob McMahon. “We’ve been pretty successful all year long and they stepped up and showed why they are the best power play in the league.”
The final three weeks of the regular season will make for some exciting lacrosse as teams look to not only earn a postseason berth but also secure home field advantage. Surprisingly, the away team has a 32-25 record this season (.561) after road teams went just 35-37 (.486) last year. The Rush have gone just 1-4 at home but are 7-1 away from Rexall Place.
No matter if you're home or away, there are many ways to win. But your best bet is to either score over a dozen goals or allow single-digit goals to your opponent. After all, teams scoring 13 or more goals in a game are 40-11 (.784) this season while clubs who allow nine or fewer goals to the opposition are 23-3 (.885).
Teams rarely hang on like Colorado did this past weekend. In the end, what we've heard from coaches and players all year is true – you have to play a full 60 minutes to win in this league.