With a guaranteed home playoff game already in its back pocket, the Toronto Rock (11-4) will mobilize and get ready for a new objective heading down the regular season stretch, first by hosting the Vancouver Stealth (4-9) at Air Canada Centre on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch live on TSN GO in Canada and NLL LIVE in the United States.
With three games remaining, the first-place Rock have an opportunity to finish the year with the league’s top record, awarding them home-floor advantage throughout the playoffs.
Rochester and Edmonton, both with 9-4 records, each sit just one game behind Toronto. The margin for error is very little. A week removed from what verified to be a big loss to East rival Rochester, the Rock will lick its proverbial wounds and ready themselves for a match against the Stealth.
“We still think we have a legitimate shot at first place and we know we have to win our games to take care of that and hope for some help,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “I think it’s important for us to play as hard and as well as we can down the stretch here.”
Toronto and Vancouver met nearly three months ago and result fell heavily in the Rock’s favor. The 20-11 final was one of Toronto’s many footprints of a pleasantly surprising season. Since however, the Rock have temporarily lost its way offensively. Over the last five games, Toronto is averaging just 10.2 goals per game. Also not to be lost is the fact that the Stealth are capable of simply outscoring team this seasons. Vancouver put up 18 goals against Calgary in Week 1 and 21 against Minnesota in Week 9.
“It has been a long time, but they have a great offensive group from watching their games over the course of the season,” said Lovell. “We have a lot respect about the way they can move the ball, how they can shoot the ball, we have to be prepared defensively.”
On Friday, the Rock will walk into a building that hasn’t been too kind to them recently. After starting the year 5-0 on home floor, Toronto has since lost two straight at the Air Canada Centre. Those losses at the hands of the Edmonton Rush (11-9 loss) and the Rochester Knighthawks (11-7 loss), the two teams inconveniently nipping at the Rock’s heels for first place.
Goal scoring, the glaring diminishment, is hopped to be amplified with the new addition of Kevin Crowley, who made his Rock debut a week ago.
“I love the team, I love the guys I’m playing with,” Crowley said. “There are a lot of great feeders, guys that will hot you when you’re open.”
Crowley finished his debut with a modest three points (1+2), but the former New England Black Wolves star is no stranger to the stat sheet. Crowley has amounted 55 points (20 + 35) over just 11 games this season.
“I feel like anytime you’re going with a new team, there’s always going to be a transition period involved and for me it’s about getting myself involved with the team and meeting the guys and building that chemistry as quickly as possible.”
“Having a game and a practice under my belt, I feel a lot more comfortable for this week.”
It’s time to get hot. That is the mindset of the Vancouver Stealth as they enter Week 15 and the stretch drive of the National Lacrosse League season.
“We are making the push now,” said Stealth forward Joel McCready, who has won the past two Champion’s Cup as a member of the Rochester Knighthawks. “Sometimes in this league, it is about getting hot at the right time. In our dressing room, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind. We have five games to get into the playoffs.”
The Stealth are 4-9 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak as they try to hold off the 4-10 Calgary Roughnecks for the West Division’s third and final playoff berth. And Vancouver faces a daunting task this weekend with a pair of road games: at the league-leading Toronto Rock on Friday and Sunday afternoon against the New England Black Wolves.
“There is a desperation,” admitted Stealth coach Dan Perreault. “Every game is so critical as we fight for a playoff spot.”
The Stealth are coming off a pair of losses to the West Division-leading Edmonton Rush, who won 15-14 in overtime and then 17-10 to complete the home-and-home sweep in Week 14.
“We had a good test against Edmonton,” Perreault said, adding that the team played well for 50 minutes in the first game and were within a couple of goals late in the third quarter of the other before the gam got away from them.
“I think playing tough teams will help us prepare for the stretch.”
The Stealth’s five-game losing streak has come against the West’s top two teams: three losses to Edmonton and a pair to the Colorado Mammoth. Now they get the NLL’s top team, the Rock (11-4), who beat Vancouver 20-11 back in week two, as well as the New England Black Wolves (4-8).
It will be the team’s first and only meeting of the season against New England.
The Toronto game is Friday (7:30 p.m. EST on NLL Live and TSN Go) while the New England contest is Sunday (1 p.m. EST on NLL Live and TSN Go).
“They are good on all sides of the ball,” Perreault said.
Adding to the challenge of this weekend is facing two different opponents in what amounts to five days on the road.
And while Toronto has a playoff spot already locked up, the Black Wolves are in an uphill battle to earn a spot, meaning both Vancouver and New England should be playing with desperation and urgency, and not much room for error.
McCready said the team will be ready.
“It is crucial right now; I don’t think anybody in the dressing room needs motivation,” he said. “Everybody knows what is on the line.”
He also said the team can’t dwell on whatever has happened over the past five games.
“It’s a five-game season (left) and we have to take it one at a time,” McCready said. “As long as we do the little things and stick together and play fundamental lacrosse, we are going to get the goal that we want here.”
Both Tyler Garrison and goaltender Tyler Richards will not make the trip. In Richards’ absence, Eric Penney started both games against Edmonton and Perreault said he was pleased with the rookie’s performance.
By Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) & Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.