On a night when the Toronto Rock's top guns fired blanks, an underrated defender and a big-money goaltender carried the team to a familiar location.
Brian Beisel scored two goals and goalie Bob Watson shut the door in the second half as the Rock beat the Rochester Knighthawks 12-10 in the National Lacrosse League's East Division final before 17,289 last night at the Air Canada Centre.
With the win, the Rock (13-4) advances to the NLL final for the sixth time in its seven seasons. On May 14, the Rock will play host to the winner of the West final tonight (10 p.m., The Score) between the Calgary Roughnecks and the Arizona Sting.
"If you can find other ways to win, what more can you ask from a team?" said Rock general manager/coach Terry Sanderson, who won his first career NLL playoff game. "We just found another way to win."
With the big four of NLL scoring leader Colin Doyle (one goal) and runner-up Blaine Manning (one), Josh Sanderson (two) and Aaron Wilson (zero) held to a combined four goals after scoring 67.4% of the goals for the league's top offence this season, other guys had to pick up the slack. Nick Trudeau, who scored just four goals this season, netted two and defenders Phil Sanderson and John Rosa scored huge transition goals to extend a 10-9 lead to 12-9.
But Beisel, who was instrumental in holding Hawks star John Grant Jr. scoreless in the second half after a three-goal first half, was the catalyst. His short-handed goal, after Chris Driscoll picked up a loose ball, started a four-goal third-quarter run that put the Rock up 10-8. Beisel also capped the spurt with a breakaway goal.
"People questioned when he came over whether (Beisel) was a good defender," Terry Sanderson said. "I don't know who these guys are. What are they questioning? The guy is just a good solid D who has a soft touch ... He played a great game."
So did Watson, who outplayed shaky Hawks counterpart Pat O'Toole by a large margin and allowed just three goals in the second half. With his team up 10-9 in the fourth, Watson made his biggest save, whipping out his left pad to block ex-teammate Steve Toll on the break.
Watson erased memories from last season's East final when he was pulled in a 19-10 loss to the Buffalo Bandits.
"I'd be lying to say (last season's East final) wasn't on my mind," Watson said. "You kind of flash back and want to right the wrongs. Last year we didn't have the outing we wanted. I didn't want to concentrate or dwell on it, but I knew I had better and more to offer."
The Rock claimed the East title without two key players -- defender Glenn Clark (hamstring) and forward Matt Shearer (ribs). Both should be ready for the final.
"(Last night) was another statement," Doyle said. "It probably says we can win with whatever means necessary. That's got to scare teams coming in here."