TORONTO – The Toronto Rock need to win their two remaining regular season games to guarantee a spot in the post-season.
While fighting for their playoff lives is unfamiliar territory for the defending National Lacrosse League champs and winners of five championships in eight seasons, Rock head coach and general manager Terry Sanderson said he thinks his group of experienced veterans will be up to the challenge.
“I’d like to say (playoff experience) does help,” he said. I’m sure there’s some aspects you can draw on, but experience is only good if you can use it to your advantage.”
“It’s all you can do, is put something like (the loss to Minnesota) behind you,” Sanderson said. “I don’t have any answers why an offence like ours is shut down for over 20 minutes. You have to give credit to Minnesota for the way they played. It goes back to the parity in this league.”
Toronto held a 9-2 lead midway through the third quarter in Minnesota, but a gutsy comeback by the Swarm caught the Rock off guard. The Rock knows they have to play their best against a hot Wings squad.
“I’m sure it is going to be an intense game,” Sanderson said. “Usually when these two clubs meet there’s an offensive show going. We need to get our offence fired up again.”
“It’s a healthy rivalry, but not the chippy type we have with a Calgary or Buffalo. This is a skill rivalry and it usually leads to one hell of a game.”
The winner of this game will hold the season series, which is important as it’s the first tiebreaker used to separate teams tied with identical records at the end of the regular season. Toronto won the first meeting 12-11 in the Hall of Fame Game on Feb. 24 and Philly won a controversial contest over the Rock 14-12 on March 4.
Toronto is coming off an emotional loss, their second in a row. A third consecutive loss could cost the Rock a spot in the post-season.
“I think it was a little hard to digest blowing a lead like we did,” Sanderson said. “But if you dwell on it too long it affects your next game. I’m sure it will be out of our system as soon as we practice. Guys with their experience will be able to talk this thing through and the focus will be on the Philadelphia game.
Sanderson does not plan to make any sweeping changes. He believes in the system in place.
“Being so late in the season, there are not a lot of things we can change. So it would be crazy on our end to uproot things,” said the Rock’s bench-boss. “We’ve got a good offence… they’ve gone quiet for a couple of games. If it was a concern of ours, maybe you go in and make a tonne of moves, but we’re only going to tweak some minor things. I have confidence in these guys.”
Coming off an 8-7 win over the Rochester Knighthawks in a “playoff-like atmosphere,” Philadelphia head coach Lindsay Sanderson, Terry’s brother, said the Wings are riding momentum.
“We had to win one of these rubber matches so if there are some ties we’re in a better situation, it’s no different today in the Toronto game.”
The Wings can also clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Rock They haven’t been in the playoffs in three seasons.
“I don’t think you can block it out of (players’) minds, because everyone’s in the same position. We don’t want to be hoping someone beats someone else to make it to the playoffs. We hold the future in our own hands, and we want to take care of ourselves. That’s how we’re approaching things.”
Dan Marohl, Keith Cromwell and newcomer Mike Regan were shut down by Rochester and will look to get back on track offensively. It’s the first game for Regan in Toronto since his days in Albany. He was acquired from San Jose in early March for Chad Thompson and Luke Wiles.