Not only is the Toronto Rock the beast of the East, it is the top team in the National Lacrosse League. In the most important game of the season to date, the Rock came up big at both ends of the floor against the Buffalo Bandits to take charge of the 10-team league.
The Rock (8-3) stayed ahead of the Bandits (8-5) in the race for first in the five-team East Division with a convincing 12-8 win before 11,309 last night here at HSBC Arena.
"We're playing a real unselfish team game and it's really working well," said Rock forward Colin Doyle, who scored a game-high four goals to give him 13 in the past four games.
It was the third win in a row and the sixth in the past seven games for the Rock. The win gave Toronto a 2-1 season series victory over the Bandits, meaning the Rock will finish ahead of Buffalo if they're tied at the end of the season.
The Rochester Knighthawks (8-5) beat the Minnesota Swarm 20-11 last night to move into a second-place tie with Buffalo.
The Rock, which has five games left this season, will receive a first-round playoff bye and play host to the East final if it wins the division.
During the previous Rock-Bandits game, a 14-12 Toronto loss, Buffalo scored seven goals with its transition game. Last night, the Bandits scored only two.
"(The forwards) were better (getting off the floor) and they were better protecting the ball," Rock coach Terry Sanderson said. "That was a key. We knew we had to do it."
The Rock took control by holding the Bandits scoreless for a span of 16 minutes 28 seconds between the second and third quarters. During that time, the Rock scored four unanswered goals to go up 9-6. Then, after Buffalo had cut the lead to 9-7, Matt Shearer's shot from just past centre was deflected past goalie Steve Dietrich by Rusty Kruger with 2.4 seconds left in the third quarter, a backbreaker for the Bandits.
While Dietrich was pulled after giving up his 11th goal, Rock counterpart Bob Watson was sharp, making 41 saves.
"We seem to be getting a little better every game," Rock defender Brian Beisel said. "I think we're all on the same page right now."
The Rock plays back-to-back games next weekend -- Friday at the Air Canada Centre against the West Division-leading Calgary Roughnecks (8-4) and Saturday in Philadelphia against the Wings (6-6).