By Ray Lilley / NLL.com Correspondent
Photo Kohi Ton
In a potential first round playoff matchup, the New England Black Wolves (7-7) made a statement against the Toronto Rock (8-7) Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena. The statement was that the team who started the season 0-3 is now a force to be reckoned with and looks to be rolling right into the playoffs.
Now back at .500, the Black Wolves are 7-4 against East Division teams and appear to be firing on all cylinders at the right time. One of the most important factors gaining confidence is reigning NLL Goaltender of the Year, Evan Kirk. In a battle of two of the league’s top netminders, Kirk outdueled Toronto’s Nick Rose, who was pulled for the second straight game this weekend.
Perhaps Rose’s league leading workload has caused him to hit a wall here of late. Rose came into Sunday’s contest ranking first in the league in goals against average, second in save percentage, and first in minutes played. Rose led Kirk by over 100 minutes in time played and maybe his gas tank is starting to run low.
Kirk faced 35 shots in the first half alone, stopping 31 of them. In contrast, Rose faced his 35th and final shot with 42.2 seconds to go in the third quarter. New England’s 35th shot was their 11th goal as Rose was pulled with only 24 saves on 35 shots.
Kirk finished the game with 56 saves on 70 shots and added four assists on the offensive end.
Toronto scored six of their 14 goals in the final quarter after struggling in the fourth on Friday night in Vancouver. Reid Reinholdt single handedly put Toronto back in this game late scoring a hat trick in the final 2:11 of the game. Reinholdt was one of four Rock players with at least a hat trick joining Tom Schreiber (4 goals, 3 assists), Stephan Leblanc (3 goals, 3 assists), and Kieran McArdle (3 goals, 1 assist). Turner Evans also added five assists to the Rock’s high team point total.
For New England, there were many offensive contributions from secondary sources, not only Kirk. Sheldon Burns, Jay Thorimbert, and Daryl Veltman contributed two goals apiece while Dan Ball added two helpers. The likely weapons of Shawn Evans, Kevin Crowley, and Kyle Buchanan were also in the mix with quality contributions. Evans picked up his fourth straight hat trick and seventh total on the season. Crowley and Kyle Buchanan each had two goals and three assists.
Not lighting up the scoresheet but still making key contributions was Reilly O’Connor and Kevin Buchanan who made noticeable plays to create space and set up goals for the Black Wolves offense. Kevin Buchanan had a goal and four assists while O’Connor added a goal and two assists.
With the season sweep of Toronto, the Black Wolves are now tied in the loss column and only one half game behind the Rock for second place in the East. With a game in hand on Toronto, New England essentially holds their playoff destiny in their own hands.
The Black Wolves return to action on Friday night when the welcome the first place, Georgia Swarm back to Mohegan Sun Arena. New England beat Georgia 13-8 in their previous matchup on March 12. The game will feature a pregame ceremony honoring Chris Hogan of the Super Bowl champion, New England Patriots who will sign an honorary contract with the Black Wolves. Hogan was a standout lacrosse player at Penn State for three years before using his final year of sports eligibility to play football at Monmouth University. Game time is 7 P.M.