The New England Black Wolves (8-5) took a major step in their playoff push, coming from behind and beating the Saskatchewan Rush (10-4) by a score of 14-13 on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The reigning champs took a five-goal lead early in the game, but the Black Wolves’ strong defense allowed them to crawl back and get the much-needed victory. With the win, the Black Wolves can clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a win against the Toronto Rock (4-9) and a loss by the Georgia Swarm (4-9).
“Being able to beat, arguably the class of the league…” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “Those are the games you have to expect. Nothing’s going to be given when you’re playing a team like that. We put ourselves in a bit of a hole, but we stayed pretty level which is the thing I was proudest of. We didn’t get outside ourselves, we chipped away, and even in the fourth quarter we got to within two and they got back to three. There were a lot of opportunities for us to go off script and we didn’t. We stayed the course and we got some big-time moments from guys like Kyle Buchanan, who had an unbelievable game. Evvy [Shawn Evans] does what he does and all the other guys chip in.”
“We didn’t play 60 minutes obviously and they did,” stated Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “They worked us in a lot of the difficult parts of the game in the second half, they picked up tons of loose balls and they outran us. They earned it. We stopped playing a little bit and had lost of opportunities to put it away and numerous three-goal leads and we just couldn’t put it away.”
It was a physical, defense-driven game with numerous shot-clock violations and forced turnovers. The Rush got the scoring started early, finding the back of the net just a minute and a half into the game. The Black Wolves responded three minutes later to tie the game at one goal each, but did not score for the rest of the first quarter. The Rush fired off five straight goals to take a 6-1 goal lead after the first quarter. The Black Wolves caught up a bit with a few goals in the second quarter, but the Rush scored a pair of goals to end the first half with an 8-4 lead.
“It was tough to come in to a 6-1 game, but I think our whole team kind of shifted,” said Black Wolves goalkeeper Evan Kirk. “We didn’t come out ready to play, it’s as simple as that. We just kind of realized that the only people that are going to get us out of it is ourselves.”
The Black Wolves came out of the locker room firing in the third quarter, scoring quickly to cut the Rush lead to three. Defense took over from there, with neither team scoring until the Rush scored to bring their lead back to four goals. However, before the Rush could recover defensively, the Black Wolves scored to stay within three goals. The back-and-forth battle intensified as the third quarter continued. Though the Black Wolves made up some ground, the Rush led 11-8 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot early,” said Black Wolves forward Kyle Buchanan. “We talked as an offensive unit and the coaches just kind of said ‘let’s bring the energy.’ That’s kind of the focus I had for the rest of the game.”
“He [Kyle Buchanan] always brings that, the loose balls, the energy, and the up-tempo play that he works at is phenomenal,” Clark stated. “We love his game, and when he gets rewarded like that… He’s so good in so many areas and I’m glad he got rewarded that way because he’s such a big part of our success.”
The fourth quarter was tightly contested both offensively and defensively. Bodies hit the floor left and right, and it turned into a goal-for-goal exchange early on. Although the Rush defense held strong, the Black Wolves picked up major momentum as the fourth quarter progressed. The pack fired off four-straight goals to take their first lead of the game with just about three minutes left in the game and the defense held on to keep the Rush scoreless for the win.
“There was a lot of passion out there from both sides,” Clark said. “I know a lot of guys on their side and they come to play. It’s a passionate, powerful game, and that’s what happens at the end. It’s just two teams competing hard.”
The Rush took full advantage of power-plays, while a fierce defense kept the Black Wolves offense at bay most of the game. Goalkeeper Aaron Bold had an incredible night, making 33 saves on 47 shots on goal. Offensively, Mark Matthews led the way with four goals and five assists, while Robert Church collected three goals and five assists. Zack Greer added three goals and three assists.
For the Black Wolves, power-plays accounted for almost half of their goals and the defense worked hard to keep the team in the game. Backup goalkeeper Tye Belanger started, but was replaced just before the first quarter ended making 10 saves on 16 shots on goal. Veteran goalkeeper Evan Kirk took over and had a fantastic night, making 29 saves on 36 shots on goal. Offensively, Shawn Evans led the way with three goals and six assists, while Kyle Buchanan tied a career high with four goals and three assists. Kevin Crowley had three goals and four assists, and Jordan Hall added one goal and five assists.
“It’s huge,” Evans said. “It’s one of those gut-checks for the guys. We’re down 6-1, 8-4 at the half, and we could’ve rolled over and let this one slip and moved on to tomorrow. We weren’t ready for that. We need our game to be at the level it needs to be heading into playoffs and into the end of the season.”
“I had four goals heading into the season,” Clark said. “The first one was four wins, I wanted to get to where they were last year. Second goal was 8 wins, I wanted to double that and we’re there. Third’s playoffs and fourth’s championship. I’m halfway to my goals. It’s huge for this franchise to get to the playoffs, to rebound quickly. I still think they’re [Saskatchewan Rush] the measuring stick and you can see they’re a strong, good team, but we’re getting close to that level.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Shawn Evans
2) Kyle Buchanan
3) Evan Kirk
The New England Black Wolves (8-5) return to action tomorrow night as they hit the road to face the Toronto Rock (4-9) at 7 p.m. ET. The Saskatchewan Rush (10-4) return to action April 15, 2016 as they continue their road trip to take on the Colorado Mammoth (10-3) at 5:30 p.m. ET.
By Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.