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Wings face Rock with playoff implications on the line

04/08/2013, 3:45pm EDT
By NLL.com's Rock beat writer Justin Millerson and Wings beat writer Dave Walls

Watch the game live on CBS Sports Network on Saturday at 4:30pm ET

The Philadelphia Wings (6-8) host the Toronto Rock (10-5) at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 4:30pm ET. (Photo: Graig Abel)

With the East Division regular season title already locked up, the Toronto Rock (10-5) look to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs when they visit the Philadelphia Wings (6-8), who can get into the postseason with a win, at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on CBS Sports Network.

The Rock, seeking their 11th win on Saturday, can finish the season with the league’s best record for the first time since 2005 – a year in which Toronto went on to win their fifth Champion’s Cup. A victory over the Wings will guarantee home floor advantage throughout the playoffs, something that Toronto would very much enjoy.

“We enjoy playing at home,” said Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson. “If we are fortunate enough to get the victory on Saturday, to know the road to the Champion’s Cup will go through Toronto for all three games, that would be great.”

Despite finishing 2012 with a lackluster 3-5 record at home, the Rock have cleaned up their play at Air Canada Centre this season. Toronto capped off their home schedule last week with a 10-9 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks to improve their home record to a respectable 5-3.

“It matters so much to the players and owners to play playoff games at home,” said Toronto forward Garrett Billings, who leads the NLL in scoring.

To ensure their home playoff wish, Toronto will have to get past the Wings, a team that has played them relatively tough this year. In their Week #3 defensive battle, the Wings handed the Rock their first loss of the season with an 8-7 comeback victory in Toronto. The Rock got some redemption in Week #11 with a more-convincing 13-8 victory in Philadelphia. Saturday’s rubber match carries playoff implications for both sides, as while Toronto can clinch home floor, the Wings can clinch a playoff berth of their own with a win.

“It’s a big game and we know what’s on the line,” Billings said.

The Rock are in high spirits after a hard-earned victory over the Rochester Knighthawks in Week #14. The win came without their captain and reigning NLL Player of the Month Colin Doyle, who missed the game to be with his wife for the birth of their third child.

In Doyle’s absence, the Rock persevered as the team stepped up by committee.

“We have a lot of battle tested guys on our roster. I think our guys took in stride,” Sanderson said. “Yes, Colin is our leader, but we are not a team built around one guy.”

Billings again was a big factor in the victory over Rochester by leading all Toronto scorers with six points (2+4). Through 15 games, his point total is now at a league-leading 98 points (30+68). The next highest total is 92 points from Calgary’s Shawn Evans, who has played one less game.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t pay attention to [league scoring],” said Billings, who is poised for his second consecutive 100-point season after finishing second in NLL scoring last year.  “You spend your whole life competing and getting to the top of your craft, so it would definitely be nice. I was close last year and it would be nice to pull it off this year.”

Toronto has had a couple notable milestones recently. In last weekend’s victory, Kasey Beirnes scored his 500th career point while longtime Rock defender Sandy Chapman is approaching his 100th consecutive game played. Chapman has not missed a game since the 2007 season. 

“I’d hate to see where we’d be at if we didn’t have a player of [Chapman’s] caliber,” Sanderson said. “There are not enough words to describe how important he is to our team and I’m glad he’s on our side.”

The Wings control their playoff destiny as a win over the Rock would help the Wings clinch a postseason berth.  Even with a loss, the Wings can clinch if the Buffalo Bandits lose to the Washington Stealth on Saturday night.

Last weekend, Philadelphia earned a weekend split in Week #14, losing against the Rochester Knighthawks by a score of 14-7 at The Blue Cross Arena before returning home to Wells Fargo Center on Sunday to defeat a feisty Minnesota Swarm team, 15-13.

Wings general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian was proud of the way his players bounced back to win the game against Minnesota.

“Our players were very resilient our players coming off that loss,” Mouradian said. “It was a pleasure to see how they rebounded.”

Despite the Rock having the better record, coach Mouradian seemed excited to host the 2013 East Division regular season champs on Saturday.

“It’s always a high energy game. I know they like playing against us as well,” he said.“[Playing Toronto] creates a high level of energy and excitement for our players, coaches, and fans. To be televised at the same time, it’s a good challenge, and a good opportunity for us.”

After Saturday, the Rock have a bye weekend in Week #16 and will return to action for their first-round home playoff game at Air Canada Centre on Sunday, April 28 at 3 p.m. ET with their opponent yet to be determined.

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