The New England Black Wolves have been working up hill all season following a 0-3 start and then a 3-6 record at the midway point. They could have easily rolled over and played dead but they did not. Glenn Clarke’s group stood tall in the face of adversity and fought back to earn a playoff spot before they even took the floor on Saturday night.
New England (7-9) clinched a playoff berth after Rochester lost to Georgia on Friday night but they still had one more game left to finish out their rough, roller coaster ride of a regular season. The Black Wolves welcomed the Vancouver Stealth (9-9) to town with some business left to take care of before turning the page on the regular season.
Looking to clinch a home playoff game against the Toronto Rock, New England could do so with a win or a Toronto loss. They needed two things to go against them on Saturday night to not get that last home game and like you would expect anything different from this type of season…they both did.
This game almost mirrored the season that New England has had with adversity early answered by a run of success followed by a lot of back and forth all the way to the finish. And with Vancouver tying the game late, it was only fitting for this game, and the regular season, to end in overtime. This was the ninth one goal game and sixth overtime game of the season for New England who seemed to be in all but two games right until the end.
It all started with Vancouver scoring on their first two shots, and three of their first four. Reigning National Lacrosse League Goaltender of the Year, Evan Kirk was pulled after just four shots leaving New England with a 3-1 deficit and another uphill battle and over 55 minutes left to turn this game around.
Kevin Buchanan put one away for New England with just under six minutes to play in the first quarter, starting a 1:24, three goal run to take the lead at 4-3. Reilly O’Connor scored 34 seconds after Buchanan before Kevin Crowley added his second of the game. Crowley’s goal finished a play that showed just how much the skill of Shawn Evans is respected around the NLL. Evans had his back to the net moving away from the crease but still managed to draw three defenders towards him leaving the dangerous Crowley alone in front of the Stealth goal. Evans turned and threw a floater to Crowley who buried it from just outside the crease.
Crowley would finish his eighth hat trick of the season early in the second quarter and with an assist on that goal, Evans reached the 100 point mark on the season, as well. Evans picked up eight assists in the game, including helpers on the first six New England goals.
Vancouver held a 9-8 lead at halftime and ran it up to 15-10 before New England found their rhythm again. Down by five at 9:55 in the fourth quarter, Clark pulled Doug Jamieson and put Kirk back between the pipes. The change allowed the Black Wolves to regroup and take a breath after the onslaught they just experienced from the Stealth. Kevin Buchanan started the comeback and finished a hat trick of his own, his fourth of the season. Evans added to his eight assist with a goal of his own on the power play a minute later.
A huge hit from veteran Chad Culp caused a Stealth turnover just outside their own zone leading to Buchanan’s fourth goal of the game. Kyle Buchanan then found the back of the net before Culp buried one of his own. A Crowley sling shot around the defender was his fifth of the game and gave New England a 16-15 lead with 3:17 to play.
The six goals from New England came in just 5:11 as they quickly turned a five goal deficit into a one goal lead.
One of the league’s top scorers really turned it on late for Vancouver as Corey Small tied the game with 18 seconds remaining. Small finished the game off with the overtime winner for his fourth of the game. He also added three assists for a seven point night.
New England finished the game with a franchise record in shots as they threw 82 shots at Tye Belanger who stopped 66. Vancouver put 59 shots towards the Black Wolves net as Kirk stopped 13 and Jamieson made 29 saves.
The win means Vancouver will now host Colorado in the first round while a Toronto win on Saturday means New England will have to travel north of the boarder for their first round matchup.