The Toronto Rock (7-9) clinched the third and final playoff spot in the East Division by defeating the Philadelphia Wings (5-11), eliminating them and the Minnesota Swarm from postseason contention, by a score of 10-9 before a crowd of 10,662 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
Rob Hellyer notched eight points while Brandon Miller made 48 saves to help the Rock position themselves in the post season for the fifth year in a row.
“I felt like I played a little bit, it was an emotional game,” said Toronto Rock head coach John Lovell. “We're at home, we knew the importance of the game, it doesn't get any more black and white for us.”
Miller, in his third-straight start in a Rock uniform, had a career game against his former team of nearly seven years. Of his 48 stops on the night, two of which came within the game's final ten seconds. The first on shot from Kevin Crowley and the next from the stick of Pat Saunders just outside the crease.
“It was a big game,” said Miller. "I guess it doesn't matter who you play, whenever you clinch a playoff spot, it's huge.”
Toronto forward Stephan Leblanc opened the game's scoring 3:23 after the opening whistle. Philadelphia's Crowley, under a minute later, quickly answered back with a pair of tallies 1:26 apart. After the teams traded two goals each goals over the next 2:13, Leblanc scored his second of the game to tie things up at four goals a piece. Wings forward Jordan Hall capped off the frame scoring with his 28th tally on the year.
Former Rock specialist Stephen Hoar scored on a breakaway to give Philadelphia a 6-4 lead 1:15 into the second frame. The Rock however, responded with the 3-0 run with goals coming from Kasey Beirnes, Nick Diachenko and Rob Hellyer. At 9:57 mark, Hall scored his second tally of the night and tied the game at 7-7 heading into the second half.
After a busy first half, just a pair of goals were scored in the third frame. After Hellyer scored his hat trick goal at the 4:58 mark, nearly nine minutes elapsed before Crowley picked up a rebound and scored on a over-the-shoulder shot.
Leblanc, on his 39th of the year, broke an 8-8 tie early in the final quarter. Beirnes followed up just over a minute later to give Toronto their first two-goal lead of the night. Crowley scored with 2:11 left in the game to bring the Wings within one goal, but Miller finished strong, staving off a hefty comeback attempt in the game's final seconds.
“I was thinking 'don't go in,'” said Rock captain Colin Doyle of a couple late shots on goal from Philadelphia. “Our defence makes a great play to knock it out of Crowley's stick but then it ends up on the doorstep.”
With just seconds left, Saunders picked up a loose ball and fired the game's final shot. Miller made the save officially putting an end to Philadelphia's playoff chances this season.
“It's disappointing, you kind of have an empty feeling after that,” said Wings captain Brodie Merrill. “Our effort was there, we had a pretty good vibe in the locker room, we felt pretty confident. But it just came down to a couple little plays. Sometimes the game of lacrosse just isn't fair.”
As result of dropping eight of their last ten games, the Wings will miss the postseason for the first time since 2011.
After starting the season 3-3, a seemingly season crushing six-game losing streak followed suit. But after winning two games in a row, one of which against the team they were chasing in the standings – the Toronto Rock – the Wings found themselves in a deadlock tie for the East Division's final playoff spot just two weeks ago.
“It was an opportunity lost,” said Wings head coach Blane Harrison. “I think overall we had a pretty decent season, but we're young on defence, we're kind of patch work on offence, we got it together at moments and let it get away at some moments.”
Miller allowed just nine goals on 57 shots for a stellar .842 save percentage, his best effort of the year. Philadelphia goalie Evan Kirk was virtually even making 46 stops on 56 shots for a .821 save percentage.
Hellyer led all shooters with eight points (3+5) in the victory. Leblanc, Doyle and Beirnes followed up each notching four points in the effort. Crowley led all Philadelphia shooters with six points (4+2) on the night. Hall, not far behind, scored five points (2+3) in the loss.
The Rock will host their division rival Buffalo Bandits next Friday night while the Wings will travel to Vancouver to take on the Stealth on Saturday.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Rob Hellyer
2) Kevin Crowley
3) Brandon Miller