For the third straight year, the Rock have bumped the Bandits out of the playoffs. This game was very similar to the last Bandits game in Toronto, where the first half and the second half seemed like completely different games. In the first half of Saturday’s game, the Rock put forth a pretty uninspiring performance while the Bandits played solid defense and Anthony Cosmo was excellent. In the second half, the Rock finally came alive (if you can call five goals in a half “coming alive”), and the Bandits forwards were shut down by a great goaltending performance by Nick Rose. The final score was 7-6, making this game the second-lowest scoring playoff game in NLL history. The NLL later tweeted that 7 is now the lowest winning score of a playoff game in history, and ties the all-time (i.e. non-playoff) record.
The Rock were shut out entirely in the first quarter, while Buffalo scattered four goals. The second quarter wasn’t much different from the first, though the Rock did get on the scoreboard. But John Tavares scored 30 seconds after the first Rock goal and 3 minutes after the second, each time deflating the crowd and taking the wind out of the Rock’s sails. The Rock offense was starting to get some good looks though, and at one point beat Cosmo but not the posts and crossbar about four times within two minutes including three shots in a row. Cosmo never touched any of them, and may not even have seen them, but according to the rule book he’s credited with a save for each one. In general though, Cosmo played unbelievable in the first half, and only allowed five in the second half as well. Buffalo’s defenders played very well, but Cosmo was easily Buffalo’s game MVP.
At the other end, Nick Rose was good in the first quarter despite the four goals allowed. He was even better in the second – I don’t fault him for the two goals in the second quarter either, since they were both from John Tavares who was left open. No goalie can be faulted for giving up goals to Tavares when he’s open. The Bandits didn’t figure, however, that JT’s goal at 10:57 of the second was the last they’d score in the game. Rose was positively Watson-esque in the second half, and there’s no higher compliment from a Toronto Rock fan. The Bandits were held scoreless for a little over 34 minutes.
The crowd started to get into the game by the end of the third, and even when the Rock were still down by two, the volume was continually growing. Once folks realized that Rose and the defense were playing well enough to keep the Rock in the game and that they really did have a chance to win this, it got even louder. Garrett Billings scored to get the Rock within three, and then Kasey Beirnes (who’d be the Rock game MVP if it weren’t for Rose) scored a few minutes later to get the Rock within two to end the third. Beirnes scored again a couple of minutes into the third, and then completed the natural hat-trick by tying the game three minutes later. But it took until there was only 1:35 left in the game before Brenden Thenhaus scored to give the Rock the lead for the first time in the game. By this point, the crowd was going insane, possibly as loud as I’ve heard the ACC all year.
With less than ten seconds in regulation time, Bill Greer took a penalty for holding the stick, which he vehemently tried to argue but to no avail. His argument was valid… sort of. On watching the replay, Stephen Hoar knocked the stick out of Culp’s hands with a legal check, and then Greer crosschecked Culp in the back of the head. I didn’t see anyone holding anyone else’s stick. Greer certainly could have gotten two, or five, for the crosscheck though. And Stephen Hoar could have gotten two for yanking on Kelusky’s jersey a few seconds before.
At this point, there were 7.5 seconds left on the clock, and my son says “Ha! Only 7.5 seconds left! It doesn’t matter anyway!” I responded “Oh yes it does. This is lacrosse.” And sure enough, John Tavares puts one in just under 7.5 seconds later. The refs began to review the goal, as they always do with under two minutes to play, and they showed the replay on the Jumbotron. Right away Josh Sanderson and a few other Rock players ran over to Nick Rose to give him a celebratory hug. They could see on the replay that the goal wouldn’t count because Tracey Kelusky was standing fully in the crease. I’ve seen a few tweets and articles that say he was pushed in, but first off, it doesn’t matter since pushing someone into the crease isn’t illegal. Secondly, I’ve watched the replay from the TV broadcast a number of times and I see no evidence that he was pushed in. He was behind Chapman who was walking backwards, but so was Kelusky. Maybe Chapman was pushing him and maybe not but it’s impossible to tell from the replay. After a review that only took a few seconds but felt much longer, the crowd erupted as the “no goal” sign was given, thus ending a game that started off fairly boring but then became one of the most exciting lacrosse games in recent memory.
The Bandits are done for the year, and the Rock will host the Knighthawks next weekend for the East division title. Since Edmonton took out Calgary, Toronto will host their second straight Championship game if they beat the Knighthawks.
Other game notes:
- Kevin Buchanan managed to launch his stick over the glass in the first quarter and was booed when he convinced the fan (a Bandits fan, too) to toss it back to him. I expected to see Buchanan run over with an extra stick or something later on to give the guy as a thank-you, but it didn’t happen.
- Glen Bryan’s helmet got knocked off in the third, and he made a move towards the bench but then turned around and continued play for a while. The rule book is clear – if your helmet comes off you must either put it back on or leave the floor immediately. Seeing as Bryan was defending the guy with the ball, there was no way the refs just didn’t see it. Easy call, but the refs totally blew it.
- At the end of the first, Damon Edwards hit Ian Llord into the boards with a crosscheck from behind, and Llord suffered a separated shoulder. No call on that one either. Llord had the ball at the time, so if the refs didn’t see it, I don’t know where they were looking.
- There were only 9400 people at the game, which I thought was quite disappointing for a playoff game against the Bandits on a Saturday night when the Leafs and Raptors are done.
- Who was first in line for the handshakes after the game, less than a minute after the no-goal call? Darris Kilgour.