The Toronto Rock were crowned the Eastern Division NLL Champions on Saturday as they defeated the Buffalo Bandits in a close 12-11 game.
It was bad news for the Bandits right out of the gate as John Tavares didn’t play due to a calf injury. Buffalo’s offense was obviously demoralized with the loss of their star player as they did not get on the scoreboard until several minutes into the second quarter (JT led the Bandits in scoring with 78 points during the regular season). Toronto capitalized by jumping out to an early 6-0 lead and even chasing Mike Thompson from net.
It seemed that as soon as backup goaltender Angus Goodleaf entered the game, he lit a fire under the Bandits. Buffalo scored five goals within five minutes and suddenly they were right back in it. Toronto’s offense never let up as Colin Doyle and Stephan Leblanc fired back. Toronto held on to a 9-6 lead going into halftime.
The Rock opened the second half of the game with two goals in the first minute of play. The rest of the third quarter was a battle between defenses as the Rock didn’t score again and Clay Hill netted Buffalo’s lone goal of the quarter.
Everybody in HSBC Arena was on the edge of their seats as the fourth quarter began. Once again, Toronto scored a quick goal right off the faceoff when Garrett Billings found the back of the net just 41 seconds into the quarter despite Toronto being shorthanded. This score would ultimately end up being the game winning goal. The Bandits attempted to mount a late comeback and came extremely close to tying it several times. Kyle Clancy, who dressed to fill in for John Tavares, completed his hat trick and even added a fourth goal. The deficit was just one goal too much and even with the extra attacker on the field in the final minutes, the Bandits couldn’t beat Bob Watson to tie the game.
Garrett Billings (3G, 3A) led all scoring and was named Game MVP for the Toronto Rock. Stephan Leblanc also had a notable performance with 3 goals.
Although Clancy had an excellent game, one has to wonder if John Tavares could have made the difference in this game. Mark Steenhuis was held without a goal. This could likely be attributed to Tavares being out of the lineup thus making it easier for the Rock to target Steenhuis and contain him.
The Rock will host the defending champions, the Washington Stealth, in the NLL Championship game next weekend. It is a rematch of last year’s final but this time Toronto is at home instead of Washington. That could end up making a big difference considering Toronto has only lost one home game all year. The game airs live on VERSUS and the NLL Network online at 2:00pm EDT on Sunday May 15th.