Everything fell in to place on Saturday as the Toronto Rock completed an incredible comeback.
Brenden Thenhaus scored with a one-handed shovel shot with 1:35 remaining to cap a rally from a 6-2 halftime deficit and give Toronto a 7-6 victory over the Buffalo Bandits in a National Lacrosse League East Division semi-final.
“I had a guy on me so I stepped towards their net with one hand on the stick,” said Thenhaus, who'd been cut by Buffalo just before the start of the regular season. “The shot clock was low and I just wanted to get a shot on net.
“I didn't get much on it. It just found a lane, hit the post and went in. It couldn't have worked out much better. I was pretty happy, especially with the goal coming against the team that let me go.”
Thenhaus would not have been in position to score the winning goal had Kasey Beirnes not scored three in a row to tie the game 6-6. It also helped that Toronto goalie Nick Rose blanked the Bandits for the entire second half.
“That's one of the biggest comebacks I've been a part of,” said Beirnes. “It was great that I was a big part of it and, hopefully, we can continue to go on next weekend against Rochester.”
The Knighthawks beat the Philadelphia Wings 14-13 in the other East semi on Friday and will be in Toronto for the East's final next Saturday.
It is rare for a goalie to not a allow a goal in a full half of lacrosse. Buffalo's Anthony Cosmo only allowed two in the first half, and Rose didn't allow a goal after John Tavares scored his second of the night to make it 6-2 at 11:57 of the second quarter.
“Our defence stepped it up,” said Rose, who rightly shared the glory. “Anytime you can get the support from your teammates like that, that's the result you're going to get.
“It's basically the execution of our system.”
It was Rose's first career playoff start and he lauded the play of the veteran at the other end afterwards.
“Cosmo played out of his mind,” said Rose. “That was one of the best games I've seen him play. He deserved to win. I feel heartbroken for him that that happened to him but, obviously, I'm pretty excited about our opportunity now.”
With six seconds left, Buffalo was given possession of the ball when Toronto defenceman Bill Greer was penalized for holding a Buffalo stick, and Tavares bounced a ball past Rose in the last second. Tavares jumped for joy and his teammates surrounded him in celebration. But there was an automatic video review because it was the last minute and players, coaches and 9,472 spectators awaited a ruling.
“I thought it was a good goal,” said Rose. “I thought they were just reviewing the time left on the clock. I thought it was going to be a good goal because I knew it went in before the buzzer went.”
Greer was in mental agony as he trudged out of the penalty box.
“You want to talk about rollercoaster of emotions . . . First off, I don't know how I got the penalty,” Greer said. “There was nobody near me. [The referee]pointed at me. I felt as if I was going to lose my mind.
“In the box, [the Bandits]tried some fancy play. I thought, 'There's no way that is going to work.’ And then [Tavares]scores. I was so mad. Then the guys on our bench are going, ‘No goal, no goal!' It was a whirlwind of emotions.”
It was ruled no goal because Buffalo forward Tracey Kelusky was in the crease. One-half hour later, a depressed Kelusky sat in the Bandits dressing room.
“They teach you in tyke to stay out of the crease, don't they?” he asked a reporter. “I thought we played very well in the first half. We also created some good opportunities in the third quarter. Rosie made some big saves. My hat goes off to both goalies. Cosmo was phenomenal for us.
“At the end of the day, you can't go 34 minutes without scoring a goal in this league and expect to win.”
Coach Darris Kilgour said the loss was typical of the Bandits' up-and-down season. It also hurt to lose defenceman Ian Llord late in the first quarter, when he injured his right shoulder being checked into the corner boards.
“The defence and Cosmo hung on as long as they could,” said Kilgour. “We were short-handed on the back door with Llordy going down. They wore us down and it wound up costing us a late goal. I don't know what it was this year. The whole year, we just couldn't finish games off, couldn't make the big play when we needed it, and that's exactly what happened tonight.”
Toronto's other goals were scored by Colin Doyle, Garrett Billings and Josh Sanderson. Buffalo's other goals were scored by Kelusky, Luke Wiles, Mark Steenhuis and Scott Self.
Toronto outshot Buffalo 55-42.
Cosmo slipped to 1-7 in playoffs in his career and remains without a post-season win since 2007.
“It was real tough,” said Cosmo. “Rosie played well in the second half and we didn't have much offence from the second quarter on.
“We had control of the game early and were playing well. We just came up one goal shy. It came down to one goal and a goal with a player having nothing to do with the shot having a foot in the crease. We were so close and we were grasping at every straw and they just fall down on you. That's our season in a nutshell right there.”
Troy Cordingley was one relieved coach after the Rock stayed alive, by the skin of their teeth, in their quest for a second straight championship.
“I cannot say enough about the guys in our room,” said Cordingley. “We do things the hard way sometimes but we've got a lot of character guys.
“Nick was unbelievable. He's a goalie who makes the saves when you need them. This was a goaltender's duel. It was unbelievable watching those two guys make those saves off some of the best shooters in the world. Both goalies were sensational. It was an unbelievable game to be a part of. It was a battle. We have a lot of respect for that team.”
Notes: On power plays, Toronto was 1-for-2 and Buffalo was 0-for-2 . . . It's the third year in a row Toronto knocked Buffalo out of the playoffs . . . Kilgour coached his 23rd career playoff game, passing Les Bartley for the most in NLL history . . . Tavares upped his NLL-record total to 77 goals in 33 playoff games . . . Toronto deleted D Phil Sanderson, F Dan Carey and D Scott Johnston . . . Buffalo scratched Jeremy Thompson, Brandon Francis and Travis Irving.