TORONTO - Never has filling Bob Watson’s shoes looked as tough as it did Saturday night.
The favoured Toronto Rock — with Nick Rose in the net a year after Watson helped lead the Rock to a sixth championship — got off to a rather shaky start in their Eastern Division semifinal with the Buffalo Bandits.
Rose, who took over the the starting goalie duties midway through the season when the Rock dumped Matt Roik after 10 games and turned things over to the 24-year-old Orangeville native — who they acquired from Calgary for a first-round pick in the 2014 draft — did not have a stellar first half.
But he more than made up for that early hiccup with a spotless second half, helping the Rock to a come-from-behind 7-6 win that earned a spot in the Eastern final with Rochester next weekend at the ACC.
After allowing six goals in the first half, at least two of them somewhat questionable, Rose looked like a different goaltender in the second half making not just the routine stops but a handful of stellar ones.
Down 6-2 at the half, the Rock reeled the Bandits back, finally getting on even terms at the 5:17 mark of the third period as Kasey Beirnes scored his third of the game on a delayed penalty to the Bandits with the extra attacker on for the Rock.
Blaine Manning found Beirnes alone in front and the veteran forward buried it behind Mississuaga native Anthony Cosmo for the game-tying goal.
Brenden Thenhaus then made all Rose’s efforts in the second half worthwhile as he scored what turned out to be the game-winner with 1:35 to play.
The Bandits appeared to have tied the game and forced overtime when John Taveras snuck one through Rose’s pads with a second remaining in the game. The play though was automatically reviewed and replays clearly showed Tracey Keluskey in Rose’s crease as the ball entered the net, wiping out the goal.
Rose admitted he thought it was a good goal initially but he was focussed on Taveras, not Keluskey. As for the Jekyll and Hyde-type night, Rose shrugged it off.
“That’s just how it goes sometimes,” Rose said. “Sometimes you are hot and sometimes you struggle. You just have to stick with it. It worked out tonight. That’s really all I have to say about that.”
Beirnes said the key for the Rock last night was the composure they showed facing a potential upset.
And he felt that composure started with the 24-year-old between the pipes.
“He’s very poised,” Beirnes said. “That’s something he brings. That was a great change for our team, that calmness he brings and it’s very similar to what we had when Whip (Watson) was in net.”
The Bandits were in complete control of this one early, on the second shot of the game to be exact as Kelusky ripped a shot Rose had full view of from well out that somehow got behind the Rock goaltender.
That was just over a minute into the game.
“Maybe a little nerves but I’m not too sure,” Rose said of his early struggles. “They were shooting the ball well. Any time you are going to go up against a team like that, they are going to score their goals. You just have to try and stick with it.”
At the other end Cosmo was stoning the Rock forwards and when he wasn’t, his posts were bailing him out.
Four times in the first half, Rock forwards beat Cosmo cleanly only to have their efforts ricochet out off posts.
Rock captain Colin Doyle finally solved Cosmo, breaking his shutout with 8:23 gone in the second quarter.
The effort came off a nice feed from Blaine Manning who had just hit posts on his two previous shots.
That opened the scoring and got the Rock back some of that swagger that had been missing.
After that it was just a matter of Rose settling down and the Rock capitalizing on their chances.
“It says a lot about this group we have here,” Rose said. “We’re a bunch of guys who are never going to quit no matter what and we’re going to keep coming at you. That has been our mindset all year and we’re going to keep playing that way.”
ROSE SORRY FOR MENTOR
Nick Rose was almost aplogetic. Almost.
Not for anything he did or didn’t do in the game, but because he’ll go down as part of the reason Anthony Cosmo had yet another chance at a NLL title fall short.
Despite a brilliant game in the net, Cosmo, the Bandits starting goalie and a Mississauga native, lost his sixth consecutive MLS playoff game.
As happy as he was for his own team, Rose sounded genuinely sorry things didn’t go better for Cosmo.
Cosmo was basically Rose’s mentor in Boston for three seasons when Rose was learning the game.
As Rose tells it, Cosmo, 10 years his senior, went out of his way to help the younger Rose develop and become the goalie he is today.
“Cosmo played lights out and when he’s playing like that usually his team is going to win,” Rose said. “I owe a lot to him. He helped me get better as a goalie and, even more importantly, a person off the floor. I’m always going to cherish my time in Boston with him. He played a hell of a game tonight and he deserved to win. Obviously I’m happy we won, and I’m sure eventually he’s going to go get that ring, just tonight it was our turn to go on.”