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Playoff push: Rock & Stealth will mix it up with Vancouver rematch

04/02/2014, 12:10pm EDT
By Rock beat writer Justin Millerson & Stealth beat writer Kyle Donen for NLL.com

Toronto visits Vancouver on Saturday as teams vie for position in standings

The Toronto Rock (5-9) visit the Vancouver Stealth (4-9) at Langley Events Centre on Saturday at 10pm ET. (Photo: Graig Abel)

The Vancouver Stealth (4-9) will be looking for back-to-back wins when they host the Toronto Rock (5-9) at Langley Events Centre on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

The Stealth are coming off a huge 12-8 victory over the Buffalo Bandits this past Saturday and now sit just a half game back of Colorado for the final playoff spot in the West Division.

“It was a very important game for us,” said Stealth assistant coach Dan Perreault. “We were very focused for that game and we prepared for that game as if it was playoff game, like we have to do the rest of the way. Each game is so important to us.”

Last weekend’s game against the Bandits was a total team effort and a complete game for the Stealth, something that hasn’t happened in recent games.

“We started off well and we ran for 60 minutes,” said Perreault. “Some of the previous games that didn’t happen. Our plan was to come out strong right from the opening whistle.”

The Stealth’s strong weekend provided some much needed life for the team and their fans, as the LEC was alive and kicking this past Saturday night. The Stealth will look to maintain their momentum against the Rock who are also battling for playoff positioning down the stretch.

“We had a players meeting,” said Stealth defenseman Matt Beers. “We needed to turn things around and turn them around quick. We addressed a few minor problems to work on and that turned into success on the floor. So we’re going to continue to build off that.”

Also, don’t miss the Stealth Pre-Game Festival starting at 7 p.m. ET, with Triple O’s, a Live DJ provided by the Joseph Richards Group and catch the East Coast NLL game between the Calgary Roughnecks and the Buffalo Bandits, on the big screen.

A week after falling to the undefeated Edmonton Rush, the Rock look to stay alive in the East Division playoff picture with a win.

With four games renaming this season, the Rock are in a deadlock tie with the Philadelphia Wings for the third and final playoff spot in the East Division, a situation caused by a less than fortuitous stretch. Toronto has now dropped five of their last six games with their only win coming against the East Division's last place Minnesota Swarm on March 16.

“The locker room is a little bit quiet right now, we need to figure some stuff out,” said Rock forward Kasey Beirnes. 

“In terms of dressing room, we just need to keep everyone on the same page whether it's offence, defence and goaltending. I think at the beginning of the year, there was some finger pointing and we've all come clean on that. We need to come together as a team.”

During a stretch of which can be identified as their worst since the 2009 season, Toronto's defensive play has been far from perfect. Dating back to Feb 28, the Rock have allowed 83 goals against, a startling stat that has forced many changes on the backend. In less than a month, the Rock acquired veteran goalie Brandon Miller and signed defenders Jimmy Purves and former retiree Cam Woods to the active roster.

A glimmer of hope resides in a strong defensive effort against Edmonton last week despite an eventual 13-10 loss. Squaring off against the league's top team, the Rock tightened up in front of goalie Brandon Miller, who got his first start in a Toronto Rock uniform after being acquired at the trade deadline.

After a shaky first quarter which featured four goals against, Toronto's defence stood tall only allowing eight tallies the rest of the way.

“I think that there were some reevaluations on the defensive end to make sure everyone was on the same page,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “I think it was just about talking about things and working a little harder.”

The Rock however, had a hard time lighting the lamp, particularly on the powerplay. In eight total attempts with a man advantage, Toronto struck only twice while giving up two shorthanded goals. In the second half, the Rock ran into a hot Aaron Bold and as result, only put three tallies on the board.

“It's another tough loss and that seems to be the way it goes for us a lot of the time,” said Lovell. “But we did put in a good effort, one of our better ones of the season.”

With not much time to dwell on the past, Toronto will start the quest toward locking up a playoff position this Saturday against the floundering Vancouver Stealth, a team who is chasing their own playoff reservation.

“These are playoff games for us,” Lovell said.

The Rock hosted the Stealth on Jan 31 and came away with a convincing 17-12 victory. Toronto erased a 6-1 first quarter deficit and eventually went on to score ten second half goals en route to their second win of the season. Toronto's 17 goals is their second highest total on the year – second to the 20 goals they scored against the Philadelphia Wings on Feb 7.

Heading into a four-game stretch which will decide the fate of the Rock's playoff endeavours, Lovell said he's unsure of which goalie to start on Saturday night. While Nick Rose has carried the bulk of the load this season, veteran goalie Brandon Miller had a strong showing last week against the Rush making 40 saves on 53 shots.

“I haven't decided yet, we have a practice [on Wednesday night] and we're going to talk it over,” said Lovell. “I guess one of the difficulties of having two number one goalies is how we're going to go with this. Certainly Nick deserves another shot, but [Miller] play great in our last game.”

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