The Rochester Knighthawks (6-6) downed the Philadelphia Wings (5-8) by a score of 14-7 at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night. Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The Rochester Knighthawks (6-6) got back to .500 and earned some breathing room for second place in the East Division by handing the Philadelphia Wings (5-8) their fifth-straight loss with a 14-7 home win at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night. The game was televised live on CBS Sports Network, the first of six NLL games to be broadcast on the network for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
For the second consecutive week, Rochester’s defense, led by goaltender Matt Vinc, held their opponent to single digits. In fact, the combined 15 goals allowed in the past two games are the Knighthawks’ fewest in a two-game span in 2013.
“[Vinc] saved our butts on too many occasions here tonight,” said Rochester (6-6) head coach Mike Hasen. “He’s playing very well right now. I’m glad he’s here as opposed to anywhere else.”
“When we don’t give those guys too much time and space, it makes my job a whole lot easier,” Vinc said. “I got a little lucky; I think [Kevin] Crowley hit a few pipes. A little bit of luck and the solid defense.”
The reigning NLL Defensive Player of the Week made 45 saves on 52 shots, dropping his league-low goals-against average to 9.73. He was a major reason why the league’s best penalty-killing unit held the Wings to only one power-play goal on six chances.
“He took them to the championship last year and they won,” said Wings general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian. “We got  shots and we spent a lot of time working on our shot selection. We had some good shots. We had pipes, we had one-on-ones with him, we had good looks…we can’t settle for scoring 10, nine, or seven goals, especially when we’re getting  shots, quality shots.”
“[Vinc] was great in the net,” said Wings transition player Paul Rabil. “It felt like we probably got better shots this time around than we did last time and scored three fewer goals.”
In addition to a strong defensive performance, Rochester’s offense scored the most goals in a single game since netting 15 in a Feb. 9 win over Buffalo and 20 versus the Wings the night prior.
Five different Knighthawks scored at least two goals and 13 different players recorded at least one point. Although Cody Jamieson led the team with seven points, Rochester’s top goal-scorer earned six of his points with assists (1+6). Johnny Powless scored a game-high three goals (3+1) while Dan Dawson added five points of his own (2+3).
“We’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league,” Jamieson said. “We truly believe that in the locker room. You may stop one of us, but you’re not going to stop us all. When we share the ball, when we move the ball and keep our feet hot, we’re a tough offense to stop.”
The league’s lowest-scoring offense continued to struggle. Although seven different Philadelphia players scored, all seven finished with only one goal. Crowley earned a single point (1+0) despite taking a game-high 14 shots.
Rochester took a 3-1 advantage in the first quarter, never relinquishing the lead. Transition player Jimmy Purves buried a behind-the-back goal with 1:29 remaining in the first to give the Knighthawks the two-goal cushion.
Dawson guided the Knighthawks to an 8-4 lead at the half with a pair of second-quarter goals. He scored the first 1:10 into the period and netted the latter shorthanded approximately 10 minutes after. Cory Vitarelli scored the eighth goal with 57 seconds left before half.
Philadelphia scored three of the final four goals in the third period to cut the deficit to three. Kevin Ross scored unassisted with a wraparound goal midway through the quarter. Former Knighthawk Jordan Hall followed with his only goal at 12:22.
Vinc shutout the Wings for the final 17:38. Rochester sealed the victory with an unassisted breakaway from Brad Self 42 seconds into the fourth quarter. He sandwiched his second around goals from Vitarelli and Powless’ hat-trick tally.
With the win, the Knighthawks have increased their lead to one and a half games over the Wings for second place in the East Division. While Rochester evened its record at .500 for the first time since Feb. 9, the Wings have now lost five straight.
“At this level, the best players have to step up and be better than the opposing team,” Rabil said. “I think it’s just fighting to win at this point and see where everything falls into place [for the playoffs].”
Both teams must play the second leg of a back-to-back weekend on Sunday. Rochester travels north to Toronto for a 3:00 p.m. contest against the Rock. Philadelphia returns home to host the Minnesota Swarm at 4:00 p.m. Both games can be see live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
A win over Toronto would not only give the Knighthawks a 2-1 tiebreaker over the Rock (9-5), but it would keep the East’s first seed in reach for Rochester.
“Every games important, but in these division games, we need to win,” Vinc said. “We got to come out with a full 60 minutes and we didn’t do that last time we played Philadelphia. Every game is a playoff game. Nobody has secured a spot. We’re fighting for our lives out there.”