The Toronto Rock (4-4) got back to .500 by staving off a late comeback to defeat the Minnesota Swarm (1-7) by a score of 14-12 before a crowd of 9,207 at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
After Toronto garnered a 13-4 lead after three quarters, Minnesota scored seven straight tallies in the fourth to bring the Swarm within two goals with just over a minute remaining in the game. Fortunately for the Rock, the comeback was too little, too late.
“I don't know if it was a case of us getting too [relaxed] on the bench, so I hold myself accountable in that regard,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “Defensively, I think we let a couple soft goals go in and our goalie deserves better than that.”
Rock captain Colin Doyle scored his 499th and 500th career NLL goals and while at a time it looked as if the milestone would be buried among a convincing Toronto victory, the goals were the eventual difference in the game.
“It feels great. I don't really follow that stuff, so I didn't even know when it happened,” said Doyle. “It shows how long I've been playing and how great my teammates have been over the years.”
Doyle joins NLL legends John Tavares, Gary Gait and John Grant Jr. as the league's only scorers to reach the elusive 500-goal plateau.
“Those are pretty good lacrosse players,” said Doyle. “John [Grant Jr.] and I have gone to battle for a long time now. I have a lot of respect for him. And Gary [Gait] and John Tavares, I watched those guys play growing up, so it's unique for me to be in that conversation.”
Minnesota transition player Brock Sorensen opened the game's scoring by netting his first of season just 1:58 after faceoff. Just shy of two minutes later, Toronto forward Stephan Leblanc and Swarm defender Jordan MacIntosh traded goals just 15 seconds apart to give Minnesota an early 2-1 lead. The Rock responded finishing the quarter on a 3-0 run to take a 4-2 advantage heading into the second frame. Damon Edwards, Leblanc and Rob Hellyer were the Rock goal scorers during the fortuitous stretch.
A total of 50 penalty minutes were accumulated over a spirited first frame, which included four fighting majors between the two teams. The Swarm's Andrew Suitor and Rock newcomer Billy Hostrawser dropped the gloves immediately following the Rock's fourth goal. The bigger Suitor was the unofficial winner of the affair, but also received and extra two minutes for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct. Suitor alone totalled 17 penalty minutes during the first quarter.
The Rock extended which eventually became a 4-0 run after Josh Sanderson scored his ninth goal of the season just 25 seconds into the second frame. MacIntosh and Minnesota defender Greg Downing sandwiched a couple goals over a 7:43 stretch to cut Toronto's lead to 5-4. Rock captain Colin Doyle, over the half's final 1:22, scored a pair of tallies, the latter of which was a buzzer beater.
The Rock postured up and took a 13-4 lead to close the third frame. Toronto scored the quarter's only six goals as part of an eventual 8-0 run. Leblanc scored his hat trick goal 23 seconds into the second half.
Sanderson followed up 1:11 afterward netting his second and third tallies on the night over a 5:16 stretch. Rock rookie Ethan O'Connor, Kasey Beirnes and Hellyer each scored as the frame came to a close.
The Swarm made things interesting by scoring seven-straight tallies to cut Toronto's lead to 13-11 late in the game. Jesse Gamble however, cancelled any chance for a come back by scoring an empty net goal with 28 seconds remaining. Minnesota's MacIntosh scored the game's final goal with five seconds left on his third-straight fourth quarter dunk from behind the net.
The loss to the Rock sends Minnesota five games behind the division-leading Buffalo Bandits. Saturday's game is the first of five-straight against divisional opponents and though the horizon may seem bleak, the Swarm still hold hope for a season turnaround.
“We have a pretty positive group. We just have to keep working,” said Swarm forward Kiel Matisz. “Things haven't gone our way, but we got to come out a little more prepared.”
Consistency, which has been a nagging problem for the Swarm this season, was once again on model display in Saturday night's loss. After being held scoreless in the third quarter, Minnesota scored eight times in the fourth.
“When you see what we did in the third quarter and see what we did in the fourth, it's not the same team,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. Consistency has to be job one for us [to succeed].”
Minnesota has now dropped five-straight games, but a glimmer of hope exists thanks to the team's schedule down the stretch. Of the Swarm's final 10 games, eight of them are against East Division opponents.
Rock goalie Nick Rose, a week after being pulled from goal, stood tall making 46 saves on 58 shots for a .793 save percentage. Swarm Goalies Zach Higgins and Tyler Carlson shared the game's duties allowing a combined 13 goals on 46 shots for a .717 save percentage. Carlson, who played 28:25 on the night, is slated with the loss.
Billings (0+9) led all shooters with nine assists in the victory. Sanderson (3+3) followed up with six points of his own.
Logan Schuss (1+5) led all Swarm scorers with six points in the loss. MacIntosh (5+0), close behind, scored a career-high five goals.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Colin Doyle
2) Nick Rose
3) Patrick Merrill
The Rock will head out West next Friday when they take on the undefeated Edmonton Rush. The Swarm will play tomorrow when they take on the Philadelphia Wings on the road at 4 p.m. ET.