April 13, 2014

One-Goal Game Swings Playoff Fortunes in East 

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Colin Doyle and the Rock clinched a playoff spot with Saturday's 10-9 win over Philadelphia, which also eliminated Minnesota from contention.

A one-goal game determined the fate of three NLL East teams.

Toronto's 10-9 home win over Philadelphia on Saturday night clinched a playoff spot for the Rock, and eliminated the Wings and the Minnesota Swarm, despite a 10-9 home win over Buffalo, from contention.

''We're in,'' captain Colin Doyle said in summing up his thoughts as he was having a bag of ice taped to an ankle in the Rock dressing room in Air Canada Centre. ''We earned it.''

Wings captain Brodie Merrill was being interviewed in a corridor when Rock goalie Brandon Miller walked past him on his way to say hello to family members. Both are from nearby Orangeville.

''Good job, B, you were the difference, man,'' Merrill said.

They were teammates until just a few weeks ago, when Toronto acquired the veteran goalie from the Wings. Evan Kirk is their man in the nets now. Both put on quite a show Saturday. Toronto took 56 shots and Philadelphia 57.

''It was like a playoff win,'' said Miller. ''Anytime you join a team, you want to contribute as quickly as possible so to do it here at home it feels pretty good, real good.''

It was 7-7 at halftime. Kirk only allowed three goals and Miller only two to the end.

''I was terrible in the first half,'' said Miller. ''I know those guys so well over there I think I was thinking where they were going to shoot instead of just seeing the damn ball and just reacting.

''In the second, I tried to watch the ball come out of the stick and move to it instead of thinking about who's shooting the ball and where he likes to shoot. I played against those guys so many times in practise. Sometimes your mind can play against you, and I think it did in the first half. I was happy I was able to come back and put together a good half.''

Naturally, he felt a great deal of empathy for Merrill and the rest of his former teammates.

''Yeah, for sure, I do,'' he said. ''I told him that when I was shaking hands.

''Everyone wants to make the playoffs. Everyone plays this sport, and it's not for money, to make the playoffs and win a championship at the end of the day. We knocked them out and it's tough for them. I've got some friends over there, for sure. But I wouldn't change it.''

It was a nail-biting finish. The Wings called a timeout when they gained possession of the ball with 15 seconds left. Pat Saunders got off a shot from near the crease with three seconds left. Miller made the save. It was over.

''It wasn't through lack of effort,'' Merrill said of the loss. ''It can be a cruel game sometimes.

''There were a lot of swing plays we were just on the wrong side of. We traded some quality chances and they were able to finish one more. It was great goaltending on both sides.''

Toronto retains a slim chance of overtaking Buffalo for second place in the NLL East because of the Bandits' loss in Minnesota.

''That was our first goal and now we'll see what happens from here on out,'' GM Terry Sanderson said after the win. ''We still have a shot at a home game in the first round of the playoffs.''

Buffalo, 8-7 after five consecutive losses, is at Toronto, 7-9, on Friday. If the Rock win that one, second place is not out of the question because Buffalo has to finish up with a home-and-home set with first-place Rochester while Toronto concludes its schedule at last-place Minnesota.

Rochester's 10-7 home win over Vancouver, combined with the Buffalo loss, clinched first in the NLL East for the Knighthawks, 12-4. The first-round bye they'll get in the rejigged league playoff system will be hugely beneficial.

In St. Paul, the Swarm rewarded loyal fans with a solid performance highlighted by the 41-save effort of Tyler Carlson and a winning goal from rookie standout Logan Schuss. It was his 30th, which is a club rookie record.

''Our guys showed a lot of character, a lot of poise,'' said coach Joe Sullivan. ''It's a little too late with Toronto winning to get us into the playoffs but probably the bigger thing is where we're going.

''Both the teams (Colorado and Toronto) we play in the next two weeks are playoff teams so we want to put our stamp on where we should have been and be able to honestly say we should have been in the playoffs.''

In the NLL West, Colorado's 10-8 home win Friday over Edmonton, ending the Rush undefeated run at 14 games, gave the Mammoth, 6-10, the upper hand over Vancouver, 4-11, for the third and final playoff berth. Colorado completes its schedule at Minnesota on Saturday and at Philadelphia on April 26. Vancouver winds things up at home against Philadelphia on Saturday, at Edmonton on the 25th and versus Calgary on the 26th. For the Stealth to overtake the Mammoth now, they would have to win all three and see the Mammoth lose both their remaining games.

Edmonton, having clinched first place long ago, rebounded to win 15-11 in Calgary on Saturday in a game that had no bearing in the standings since the Roughnecks had already been locked into second place.

The bottom line: the single-game-elimination division semifinals will be played May 2-3 in Calgary and in Buffalo or Toronto.

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