Rock fall flat for retiring goalie

Toronto Rock's Bob Wawtson makes a save against the Buffalo bandits' John Tavares. (Dave Thomas/QMI...

Toronto Rock's Bob Wawtson makes a save against the Buffalo bandits' John Tavares. (Dave Thomas/QMI AGENCY)

DAN ILIKA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

The final denial or the race for first place?

Call it what you will, but the Rock just didn’t have what it took Friday night to hold off the Buffalo Bandits and clinch home floor advantage in the NLL playoffs.

More than 15,000 fans packed the ACC to celebrate ’keeper Bob Watson’s final denial — the veteran backstop’s last regular season home game — and the Bandits gave him a tough farewell, with a final score of 11-8.

“We’ve got a good team here (and) unfortunately we didn’t come out and prove that,” Watson said. “We had our largest crowd and it was the biggest home game of the season.”

The loss was Toronto’s first home loss and marked the first set of back-to-back losses of the season.

The Rock stumbled out of the gate with clumsy play, leading to sloppy passing, dropped balls and turnovers.

In what has become one of the most intense divisional rivalries in the NLL, both sides came out of the gate strong. But it was Buffalo that outworked Toronto on defence and outmatched the home side on the physical play.

The play was much the same in the second quarter, with Toronto going more than 17 minutes without the goal.

A pair of Buffalo penalties seemed to spark the Rock, which scored 40 seconds apart to tie the game 4-4 heading into the half.

Toronto kept the momentum going after the break, opening up a 6-4 lead in the third. But the Rock hit a dry spell and gave up five unanswered goals to fall behind for good.

It was all Bandits in the final 15 minutes, as the visitors kept the Rock off the scoreboard until the end when Toronto scored twice in the final minute to make the score a little closer.

“We were totally outplayed,” Rock head coach Troy Cordingley said. “We were waiting for things to happen and didn’t make them happen.

“We’re brutal right now and we’ve really got to get back to playing the way we can play.”

Second-year forward Stephan Leblanc, who leads the team in scoring this season, seemed off on the night and just couldn’t get anything going. Forward Kasey Beirnes had three goals and two assists.

Watson made 33 saves and is now only six saves from tying the NLL career record.

With only one game remaining for Toronto (next weekend in Edmonton against the 4-10 Rush) to Buffalo’s three, it will take a Rock winning its final and the Bandits losing two for Toronto to clinch the division crown.

“We’re better than this, we’re better than the result (Friday) and now it’s up to us to come out and prove that,” Watson said.


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