Knighthawks hang on, oust Thunder, 14-12

Goalkeeper O'Toole is the difference, stopping 40 shots

April 18, 1999|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Except for a brief stretch of less than 90 seconds during the first period, the Thunder trailed the Rochester Knighthawks throughout its National Lacrosse League semifinal playoff match last night at Baltimore Arena and ended up bowing, 14-12, ending its season.

Down by as much as five goals twice, the Thunder came back from a four-goal deficit early in the fourth period and closed the deficit to a goal with about four minutes remaining.

The home team could get no closer, however, as game Most Valuable Player Pat O'Toole stopped just about everything sent his way in goal.

Finally, with 48 seconds remaining and after the Thunder had called a timeout, Rochester beat the sixth-attacker setup by the Thunder and Tim Soudan slipped through to score the clinching goal with just 25 seconds remaining.

Rochester, which lost its two regular-season games to the Thunder, was led by Ted Dowling (four goals) and Rusty Kruger (three goals, two assists). But the Knighthawks got yeoman performances from all hands -- particularly O'Toole, who figured he might be home after being cut by Buffalo at the end of preseason practice. Rochester lost its regular goalie to a season-ending injury, though, and O'Toole was signed and turned in a terrific season, going 5-2 since mid-January.

"Baltimore's game is running and shooting, getting rebounds and shooting again. We knew that and we spent the week working on it," said O'Toole. "We wanted to restrict them to one shot and when a guy took a shot he was to get a whack.

"Even if they got a loose ball, we made sure our guys were there to put a body or stick on them."

O'Toole ended with 40 saves on 51 shots sent his way for a sparkling .800 save percentage.

"Lots of shots, that's what I like in a game," the veteran of half a dozen NLL seasons said. "I'm a big guy. I'm a blocker. I stand in the net and let them hit me. That's my game."

Trailing by four goals for the fourth time when Rochester opened the fourth period on a power play goal by Casey Powell, the home team started its comeback a minute later when Gary Gait scored his third goal of the evening at 2: 32.

Gait, the league's top scorer with 82 points, then assisted on a goal by the league's second-leading scorer and teammate Joe Hiltz at the 3: 57 mark.

With a two-goal deficit, the closest it had been since the end of the first period, the Thunder appeared in pretty good shape as Rochester fell into a defensive shell.

Hiltz's third goal, and his second straight on a power play, came at the 10: 53 mark to get the Thunder within 13-12.

From the 8: 04 mark of the first period, when the Thunder climbed into a 3-2 lead with its third straight score, until the 8: 20 mark of the second, Rochester streaked to an 8-3 lead on a run of six goals.

Dowling and Kruger with two scores each led the charge as the visitors did little wrong, either offensively or defensively.

They often got a second or third shot while on the attack as Thunder goalkeeper Chris Sanderson was leaving rebounds and his mates weren't clearing them. Meanwhile, at the other end, goalie O'Toole was leaving nothing the Thunder could capitalize on if it missed its first shot.

In the midst of the Knight-hawks' run, Sanderson was replaced by backup goalie Erik Miller, who defended his teammate by saying, "It was not Chris' fault. We left him hanging out there by not clearing the rebounds.

"There was a lot on the line tonight and I was in there to stop the bleeding. We were looking for a change of pace and I did my best."

After Hiltz put a halt to Rochester's momentum with his first goal midway through the second quarter, it proved only temporary as Dowling was on the board for the third time just 26 seconds later.

It gave the Hawks their second five-goal lead of the first half and, after the Thunder closed to within three on scores by Brian Reese and Jesse Hubbard, Rochester left on top, 10-6, at intermission on Dowling's fourth goal.

The Thunder closed to within 10-8 on goals by Rob Shek and Gait at the start of the third quarter, but Rochester got those back over the next eight minutes on two goals by Curt Malawsky.

Matt Clune's first goal with about three minutes remaining in the session closed Rochester's advantage to 12-9 after three periods.

NOTE: Toronto, regular-season champion and a 13-2 winner over Philadelphia in the other semifinal match Friday night, plays host to Rochester in the championship game Friday.

Rochester 5 5 2 2 -- 14

Thunder 3 3 3 3 -- 12

Goals: Rochester -- Dowling 4, Kruger 3, Soudan 2, Malawsky 2, Bomberry 1, Kilgour 1, Powell 1; Thunder -- Gait 3, Hiltz 3, Shek 2, Hormes 1, Reese 1, Hubbard 1, Clune 1.

Assists: Rochester -- Soudan 5, Malawsky 4, Mearns 3, Jacobs 3, Kruger 2, Teat 2, Kilgour 2, Dance 1, Powell 1, Hollenbeck 1; Thunder -- Hubbard 4, Gait 3, Fay 2, Tapp 2, Cantabene 2, Hormes 1, Hiltz 1, Reese 1, Miller 1.

Shots: Rochester 41, Thunder 51. Saves: O'Toole, 51 shots, 40 saves; Sanderson 19 shots, 11 saves; Miller 21 shots, 16 saves. Att.: 6,325.

NLL playoffs

Semifinals

Yesterday's result

Rochester 14, Thunder 12

Friday's result

Toronto 13, Philadelphia 2

Championship

Friday's game

Rochester at Toronto, 7: 05 p.m.

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