The Toronto Rock (9-5) have clinched a playoff berth after a 12-11 win over the Philadelphia Wings on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.
The Rock staved off a late run by the Wings, who fall to 3-11 and who could be eliminated from playoff contention today if the New England Black Wolves beat the Rochester Knighthawks.
The Rock return to the playoffs after missing them in 2018. After being at the top of the standings most of this season, they’ve fallen off in recent weeks with four consecutive road losses, so the news of a confirmed playoff berth was very welcomed.
“Any team’s first goal is to try to qualify for the playoffs and we’re happy to be able to do that, especially at home here,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “It wasn’t the prettiest but that seems to be our script; we’ve had a lot of those one goal games.”
Toronto took a 3-1 lead in the first. Johnny Powless opened the scoring at 4:04, finishing off Challen Rogers’ pass on a two-on-one. Matt Rambo tied the game with a power play goal at 6:53, but the Rock’s power play responded with two of their own. Rogers got the first one with an absolute bomb of a shot, and Powless got the second with a left-handed shot that fooled Wings’ goaltender Doug Buchan.
Rogers scored a second power play goal in the second quarter. He was able to practice the systems this week and has played offense for Sawyer’s Oakville Rock during the summer, so it wasn’t something new for him.
“You’ve got two choices there when your power play is struggling. You can keep doing the same thing over and over or you can do something different. We went with something different tonight and it worked,” Sawyer explained.
It was a definite boost for an offense that only scored 11 goals in their last two games.
“They’ve faced some troubles, but that’s going to happen during the course of the season,” Rogers said. “They found some confidence when they were playing and they scored some absolutely massive goals tonight and really led us to get that win.”
The Rock were 3/5 overall on the power play, although they also allowed three goals on four chances by the Wings.
Powless completed his hat trick at 6:50 of the second quarter to put the Rock up 7-2. Jordan Hall scored back-to-back goals for the Wings to make it 7-4 before the half was out.
Toronto kept the pressure on in the third. Tom Schreiber scored a wraparound that barely beat the shot clock. Rob Hellyer then ducked past an injured and stick-less Ryan Wagner to leap over the crease to beat Buchan five-hole. Hall again came back with two consecutive goals, those coming 17 seconds apart. Hellyer and Dan Craig got those back for the Rock, while Kevin Crowley scored a late one for the Wings.
Heading into the fourth, the Rock led 11-7 and looked ready to end the game right there, but the Wings, never intent on giving up, made the Rock fight for their win.
“Play the next shift,” said Rogers. “We can’t focus too much on the end result; it’s really just the next shift and how we’re going to perform on that 30-second shift.”
Matt Rambo scored on a jump shot 1:24 in. Blaze Riorden beat Nick Rose with an underhand shot less than a minute later. They nearly got within a goal when Vaughn Harris scooped up a loose ball behind Rose and dove out front to put a low wraparound through his legs, but a long video review showed Harris’ toe in the crease.
That could have been a momentum killer for the Wings, but three minutes later Josh Currier came out of the corner with the ball to shoot over a defender to finally close the gap to a single goal.
Toronto, especially Powless, handled the adversity well. To the left of the net, Powless saw Brandon Slade work his way in alone in front and made a quick backhand pass to him. Slade’s goal was the eventual game winner.
“Give Philly some credit there,” Sawyer said. “They certainly hit some shots and they’re a tough team to defend.
“We’ve had a tough four-week stretch here and we need to be better than this game if we want to accomplish our grand goal, but we’ll take that win especially with what we’ve been going through.”
Powless said he practiced the backhand at home growing up and is happy it works in game situations.
“Tonight, we swung the ball really well and if we continue to do that, we’ll have success,” he said, while cautioning that “it’s a big step forward, but it’s only one step.”
Powless’ three goals and four assists led the Rock. Hellyer also had a big game, contributing a hat trick and three assists. Dan Craig scored twice and added three assists.
Philadelphia was led by Hall’s four goals and one assist, as well as Rambo’s hat trick and three helpers. Kevin Crowley contributed a pair of goals and four assists.
The Rock are back at Scotiabank Arena on Friday, April 5th to host the Buffalo Bandits at 7:30, while the Wings host the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday, April 6th in a 12 p.m. game.