|Colin Doyle celebrates game winning goal in playoff action between the Toronto Rock and the Buffalo Bandits. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)
They certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves.
The Toronto Rock played an awful first 15 minutes, digging itself a 6-0 hole, before storming back with five goals in the fourth to upend the Buffalo Bandits 13-11 in playoff action at the ACC Saturday.
The Rock’s dormant offence finally erupted in the final quarter, much like the volcano in Iceland that recently caused all kinds of trouble.
The only travel that will be cancelled because of this eruption, though, is Buffalo’s, to another road playoff game.
Instead, it will be the Rock heading to the East Division final in Orlando, Fla. next Saturday. Orlando, the top team in the regular season in the East, beat the Boston Blazers 12-11 Saturday night.
Trailing 10-8 entering the fourth, Rock captain Colin Doyle scored early, Buffalo got its only score of the frame and rookie Garrett Billings finally pulled the Rock even with 8:45 remaining.
Fellow rookie Stephan Leblanc, the best player on the floor, one-timed a pass from Billings, his longtime junior teammate, to give the Rock its first lead.
Doyle made it 13-11 29 seconds later, sending the 9,367 towel-waving fans at the ACC into a frenzy.
Buffalo pulled its goaltender with 1:15 left, but could not get any closer. The Rock won in its first home playoff contest since 2005.
Leblanc, wearing the No. 17 sweater Wendel Clark made famous, played like the Maple Leafs legend, crumpling opponents while lighting up the scoreboard.
The Rock continued its habit of falling behind the Bandits before storming back to make things interesting.
Earlier in the season, the Rock fought back from a 5-1 deficit against Buffalo, before falling in overtime at the ACC. In another meeting, Buffalo built a 8-2 lead before eventually winning 13-10. In Toronto’s only regular-season victory over Buffalo, the Rock got behind 3-1 early.
On Saturday, a combination of nerves and a rare week off — not to mention a lock-down Buffalo defence — added up to all kinds of problems for the Rock early.
Finding a most inopportune time to no longer complete passes or hit the net, the Rock dug itself the massive hole.
Roger Vyse opened the scoring early for Buffalo after Toronto goalie Bob Watson had made two great saves.
Brett Bucktooth added a couple more before Mark Steenhuis, one of the league’s most dynamic players, turned Creighton Reid inside out before putting a shot past Watson. Mike Accursi made it 5-0, chasing Watson in favour of ex-Bandit Steve Dietrich, and later made it 6-0.
It was Leblanc who finally got the Rock on the board 5:43 into the second. That was not surprising, since Leblanc had scored in every game this season. That seemed to spark the Rock. After the teams traded goals, Leblanc threw his second huge hit of the half, running over a Bandit, leading to a goal by Doyle that cut the lead to 7-4 at the half.
Buffalo outshot the Rock 22-15 through two. The Rock had closed within 10-8 thanks to a strong third period led by Leblanc.
It was the first playoff game in the Rock’s storied history without the retired Jim Veltman wearing the captain’s crest.
The franchise improved to 12-4 in playoff contests, 10-2 at Maple Leaf Gardens and the ACC.