After battling back from a 6-0 deficit in the second quarter of the NLL East Semi-Final game against Buffalo last weekend with a 13-11 win, the Toronto Rock advance to the East Final in Orlando on Saturday, May 8. Game time is 7:35 p.m. at Amway Arena. The divisional final will be broadcast on TSN2 tape delayed at 11:30 p.m. ET.
“I know it was 6-0 but we weren’t playing that badly, and we had plenty of time left,” said Terry Sanderson, Toronto’s GM-assistant coach. “It took us so long to get even, but you could feel the emotion in the building and I think our guys just fed off that.”
An electric Air Canada Centre saw the Rock explode in the second half, with the tying, winning and insurance goals coming within three minutes of each other late in the fourth quarter.
“We need to be more urgent in our starts,” said Sanderson. “You can’t tempt fate by going down by large deficits and thinking you can get back. I hope it’s a good learning experience for us.”
This will be the first time since 2005 that Toronto has reached the divisional final game. In 2006 and 2007 the Rock fell to Rochester in the first round, and failed to qualify for the post-season the last two years.
“Toronto has had a few rough years,” comments Rock rookie Stephan Leblanc. “I think how we are playing right now, we have a really good shot here.”
Leblanc leads the charge into Florida with a team-leading eight points from five goals and two assists in the playoffs. The NLL’s Rookie of the Month for April has been named game MVP for all four of Toronto’s wins since they snapped a five-game losing skid on April 2 against Calgary. His 82 points in the regular season put him second amongst rookies in scoring behind teammate Garrett Billings with 83.
Orlando heads to the second round in similar fashion to Toronto with a come-from-behind victory to knock off the Boston Blazers 12-11 in the semi-finals. Similar to last season the Titans, formerly of New York, look to be named East Division champs and advance to the final game.
The Rock dropped both 2010 regular season games to Orlando, but as Sanderson states the past never matters in single-game elimination playoffs.
“It all changes in the post season, everything is sudden death now,” he said. “Orlando finished first and beat us twice, they are a real good team, but it doesn’t matter. Anything can happen in a one game showdown. It’s a great opportunity we presented ourselves with, and we have to make the most of it.”
Casey Powell is the upfront fire-power that Toronto’s up tempo defence will have to keep an eye on. With a team-high seven points after one playoff game, Powell finished the regular season with 80 points from 44 goals and 36 assists.
“Everybody realizes their offence runs through Casey,” said Sanderson of the Titans captain. “We’ve got to limit Casey’s scoring, if that’s possible.”
Leblanc agrees and adds netminder Matt Vinc into the equation for the offence.
“They have a few keys players in Powell, and Vinc who are unbelievable,” said Leblanc. “Orlando’s strength is their athleticism as a team.”
Vinc ended the 2010 regular season with a .810 save percentage and a .951 goals against average. He stopped 99 Toronto shots across their two meetings this season.
Even though Toronto is 7-2 at home, Sanderson isn’t worried that they will have to run out the rest of the NLL playoffs on the road.
“I don’t think it matters to us where we play. We’ve played some great games on the road, but it was very nice to listen to that crowd get behind us last Saturday.”
Fans that are not making the trip to Orlando can watch the East Final between Toronto and Orlando at 11:30 p.m. ET on TSN2. Those outside of Canada can tune in live on the NLL Network at www.nll.com.
The winner of this game will advance to the NLL Champion’s Cup Final against the either the Washington Stealth or Edmonton Rush.