The Rochester Knighthawks are on a serious roll.
Joe Resetarits scored two key goals in the fourth quarter – one on the power play – helping the Knighthawks edge the Toronto Rock 14-11 on Friday in front of 11,463 fans at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Resetarits (3G, 4A) led the Rochester offense – particularly in the second half – while Kyle Jackson (1G, 4A) and Josh Currier (3G) were also strong. Goaltender Matt Vinc finished with 41 saves on 51 shots.
With playoffs looming, the Knighthawks (9-7) are one of the NLL’s hottest teams and have won 7 of their last 8 games. The Rock (7-9) have lost 6 of their last 8.
“Finding our identity”
Down 8-3 midway through the second quarter, the Knighthawks didn’t panic and managed to reel off a five-goal run that helped set up the impressive comeback.
“We just stuck with it,” Rochester head coach Mike Hasen said. “We knew we were going to play a very determined team in Toronto. We had to take a breath once we were down. After that, we were good.”
Resetarits and Jackson provided the Rochester offense late in the fourth quarter. With the Knighthawks leading 12-11, Rock forward Kieran McArdle took an illegal cross-checking penalty with just over four minutes to go. Resetarits put the game out of reach seconds into the power play with his third goal of the game.
“It’s a game of runs,” Resetarits said of the comeback. “We’ve been down in this situation plenty of times this year. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We have the ability to come back. We know if we stick to the game plan, we’ll be alright.”
In mid-February, the Knighthawks had a 2-6 record and the thought of a post-season berth seemed unlikely. Now with two games to go, the Knighthawks are two games above .500 and lead an ultra-competitive East Division.
“We found our identity,” Resetarits said of the season’s turnaround. “We could have just sat back and packed it in. We were 2-6. But we put it upon ourselves and said, ‘We don’t want to go out like this.’ We are very capable. We got a couple of wins. We never looked back after that.”
Rock “need help” to make playoffs
The loss puts the Rock in a tough position to make the playoffs. At 7-9, Toronto will likely need to win its final two games and hope for some help from other teams.
“It hurts,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said. “We’ve got two games left in the year. We will need some help now. We just have to do what we can do.”
The Knighthawks win overshadowed an impressive return from Toronto forward Tom Schreiber (4G, 1A). The 26-year-old had missed the last seven games with a knee injury, suffered in Rochester on Feb. 10.
“This one stings,” Schreiber said of the loss. “This one stings because our team got beat straight up… For me, I felt really good at the beginning. But I started to feel more [pain] as the game went on. It’s just a little sore and I’ll get back to work this week. It’s part of the process. I’ll be back stronger next week.”
Toronto’s offense appeared to have found its old swagger with an explosive first half. Schreiber had four goals on his first five shots in the opening half and the Rock led 8-6 at the break. But Toronto only managed three goals over the rest of the game.
In the third quarter, the momentum changed and Schreiber along with the Rock offense were stifled by Vinc and an air-tight Rochester defense. Toronto was outscored 8-3 over the final two quarters.
Night of milestones
Rochester rookie Jake Withers was dominant on the draws, winning 22-of-28 in the game. Early in the fourth quarter, he won his 240th draw of the season and made NLL history by breaking Stephen Peyser’s 2009 rookie single-season record at 239 draws won. He also set the Rochester franchise single-season record, previously held by Stephen Hoar from the 2007 season.
“He gives us an extra possession,” Hasen said of the 24-year-old Withers. “We know we are going to get the ball more often than not when he is on the draw. It keeps our runs going and it stops the other team’s momentum. He’s been doing that all year for us.”
Midway through the first quarter, Vinc recorded his 7,000 career save. The five-time Goaltender of the Year is the second ever NLL goaltender to reach the 7,000 save plateau, joining all-time leader Anthony Cosmo at 7,222.
With the Rock playing their final two games on the road, Toronto finished the 2017-18 campaign with a 3-6 record at home.
Next up, the Rock are on the road for the final two games of the season starting next Saturday, April 21 in Buffalo against the Bandits. The Knighthawks play their last two games within the East Division, starting with a home date against the New England Black Wolves on Saturday.
Three Starts Selected by the Media
1) Joe Resetarits (ROC)
2) Josh Currier (ROC)
3) Tom Schreiber (TOR)