UNCASVILLE, April 2 – Evan Kirk tied his own franchise record with 56 saves, and the New England Black Wolves took another step toward qualifying the National Lacrosse League playoffs, edging the Toronto Rock 15-14 at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday before 5,200 fans.
It was the seventh one-goal game of the year for the Black Wolves, who are 5-2 in those situations.
With the victory, the Black Wolves (7-7) put some distance between Buffalo (5-8) and Rochester (5-9) – both teams lost Saturday – in the race for the third and final playoff spot in the East Division. The win also allowed New England to keep the pressure on second-place Toronto (8-7), completing a two-game season sweep of the Rock.
Kirk, the reigning NLL Goaltender of the Year, set a franchise record with 620 saves in 2016. On Sunday against Toronto, Kirk was under siege at times while facing a franchise record 70 shots. He had 50 saves on 58 shots through three quarters alone, and came up with one big stop after another.
Six different Black Wolves’ players had at least two goals, with Shawn Evans (three goals, one assist), leading the way, collecting his fourth straight hat trick and his seventh of the season. Kevin Crowley and Kyle Buchanan each had two goals and three assists while Jay Thorimbert had his most productive offensive game with New England, finishing with two goals and two assists while also winning 18 of 33 faceoffs. Daryl Veltman and Sheldon Burns each had two goals.
Kevin Buchanan had one goal, but also collected four assists, giving him 38 on the year. That ties his single-season career high.
Toronto goalie Nick Rose – who began the day with an NLL-best 9.93 goals-against average – was pulled after surrendering goals to Burns and Reilly O’Connor in the last 1:06 of the third quarter. Rose was beaten for 11 goals on 35 shots.
Those goals by Burns and O’Connor at the end of the third quarter were followed by fourth-quarter goals from Kyle and Kevin Buchanan that pushed the New England lead to 13-8. But Toronto scored six of the last eight goals in the game. Three of those belonged to Reid Reinholdt, and they were scored in the last 2:11 of regulation.
Fortunately for the Black Wolves, Burns converted a long outlet pass from Kirk in between the Reinholdt goals, and that 15th goal was the difference.
Tom Schreiber (four goals, three assists), Stephan Leblanc (three goals, three assists) and Kieran McArdle (three goals, one assist) led the Rock.
New England, which has won four of their last five games, hosts Georgia on Friday night in Uncasville at 7:30 p.m. for Native American Heritage Night. The Wolves have four games remaining in the regular season and Friday night’s game is one of two remaining home games at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Black Wolves host Vancouver on Saturday night, April 29 in the final home game of the season.
National Lacrosse League
x-clinched playoff berth
Vancouver 14, Toronto 11
Georgia 21, Colorado 13
Saskatchewan 17, Buffalo 14
Calgary 11, Rochester 9
New England 15, Toronto 14
Georgia at New England, 7 p.m.
Buffalo at Calgary, 9 p.m.
Vancouver at Saskatchewan, 9:30 p.m.