Overcoming a five-goal deficit, the Toronto Rock (7-1) improved on its league-best record and stayed unbeaten at home by defeating the New England Black Wolves (2-4) in overtime by a score of 13-12 on “Superhero Night” at Air Canada Centre on Friday..
Josh Sanderson, now back atop the NLL scoring race with 52 points (8+44) in eight games, suited up and played the night’s biggest hero by netting his second goal of the game about 40 seconds into overtime to cap off a monumental five-goal comeback by the Rock in the second half.
“I’ll take it,” said Sanderson, who had six of his seven points in the second half and overtime. “It was nice to contribute late and get it done.”
Sanderson led a colossal Rock attack spanning from the 4:45 mark in the third frame to the final buzzer in overtime, a period of which that included an 8-2 run and 25 total points earned as a squad. The win augments Toronto’s lead atop the East Division standings, a frill conceived from what’s now a four-game winning streak.
“We found our game, we got the momentum,” Sanderson added. “It was huge.”
Rock sharpshooter Brett Hickey opened all scoring by netting his 19th of the year 3:32 after first whistle. Stephan Leblanc, just over two minutes later, followed up with a powerplay tally just outside the slot, giving the Rock an early 2-0 advantage. After a short 3:12 silence, the Black Wolves responded with a couple of goals from Kyle and Kevin Buchanan exactly three minutes apart.
Just 34 seconds into the second frame, the Rock’s Rob Hellyer untied the 2-2 knot, only to be answered by a Michael Diehl unassisted goal 2:58 afterward. New England closed the half by going on a 3-1 mini-run, garnering a 6-4 lead after 30 minutes.
Toronto’s Kevin Ross pulled the Rock within a 6-5 score after notching his 10th of the year 30 seconds into the second half. The Black Wolves, however mounted a 4-0 run over the game’s next 6:33 to push ahead 10-5. The Rock answered back admirably by going on a 5-1 run extending into the final frame.
The effort pulled Toronto within one goal with 5:54 left in the game. Late in the quarter, Hickey and Hellyer each scored 24 seconds apart to give Toronto their first lead since the second quarter. Kyle Buchanan, with just 1:08 left, tied the game at 12 goals a piece heading into extra time.
“It was a tough loss,” said Joel White. “We’re not satisfied, that one is going to be in the back of our heads. It hurts.”
While New England now sits at the bottom of the East Division standings, mired by a four-game losing streak, there’s no argument they were the better team for the majority of the game. They outshot and out-chanced the Rock through three quarters and even chased Toronto starting goalie Brandon Miller from goal. The Black Wolves completed a monumental 7-1 run over a 15 minute stretch, an effort that looked sure to inspire a much needed victory.
“I wouldn’t say we’re happy, but we’re not beating ourselves too much,” said New England head coach Blane Harrison. “This is the league’s top team. We took them to overtime and we had a chance to win it. We’re a lot better than we were a couple weeks ago.”
The Rock will take their seventh win with a grain of salt. Toronto was outshot 55-46 and out loose-balled 77-69. They surrendered a season-high 12 goals for a second time – the first coming in the season opener against Rochester.
“I was really disappointed with a lot of aspects of our game tonight,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “I consider ourselves pretty fortunate to win this game. This is a good reminder that we are not as good as we think we are.”
For the first time this season, a Rock goalie was chased from goal as Brandon Miller found the bench after a Jaimie Lincoln’ goal late in the third frame. On 31 shots, Miller allowed nine to pass the goal line. Backup Nick Rose, in relief, stood tall stopping 21 of New England’s 24 shots.
“It’s one of the advantages this team has,” said Lovell of his strong goalie tandem. “’Rosie’ flew off the bench for sure.”
For the Black Wolves, Evan Kirk got the nod in goal and allowed 13 goals on 46 Rock shots for a .717 save percentage.
Hellyer (2+6) led all shooters with eight points in the win. Sanderson (2+5) followed up with seven big points of his own. Kyle Buchanan (4+2) and Kevin Buchanan (3+3) each had six points in the loss, while Pat Saunders (1+4) followed up with five points.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Brett Hickey
2) Rob Hellyer
3) Kyle Buchanan
By Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.