Kirk and the Black Wolves hang on for a 15-14 win
Mohegan — Evan Kirk, reigning National Lacrosse League Goalie of the Year, tied his own franchise record with a Herculean 56 saves, facing an opposing record 70 shots. It allowed the New England Black Wolves their fifth win of the year in seven one-goal games.
Nice to be the king, right?
“You think I saved them … they saved me,” Kirk said.
It was about 15 minutes after Sunday's 15-14 victory over the Toronto Rock, which got the Black Wolves back to .500 at 7-7 and tied in the loss column for second place in the NLL East Division.
Goalie pads off, jersey removed, Kirk admitted exhaustion.
“Very busy,” Kirk said. “It's one of the most intense games I've ever been a part of.
“I lost (focus) in the whole fourth quarter. Thank God we hung in there. It wasn't clean, that's for sure. You could probably tape me to the crossbar at that point. There was no point in time I felt comfortable.”
The Black Wolves, playing before 5,255 fans at particularly loud Mohegan Sun Arena, led 13-8 with 11 minutes, 33 seconds remaining when Toronto launched three straight goals, the first a power-play goal by Brett Hickey, to pull within 13-11.
New England's Daryl Veltman made things a fraction more comfortable, scoring on an assist from Reilly O'Connor at the 2:51 mark to push the lead back to three.
But there were still a few goals left in the Rock, particularly in Reid Reinhold, who scored three times in the final 2:11, all with the Rock having pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker. Reinhold's first goal made it 14-12.
With 1:49 to go, Kirk made a save and had the wherewithal to get the ball to New England's Sheldon Burns in transition, who hit Toronto's empty net to push the lead to 15-12.
Reinhold then added two more goals to pull within 15-14 and Toronto called a timeout with the ball and 31.9 seconds remaining. Kirk made his final save with 8.7 seconds left to finally seal it.
“We'll take it. We will take it,” New England coach Glenn Clark said, loosening his tie. “You got to find a way to win these games. As ugly as it looked at the end, we were happy to come out on that side of the ledger.
“… It's uncomfortable (to play one-goal games). Sports has all kinds of cliches. One of them is learning how to win. I have been on teams that lose those games. There's something to be said for that. It's a little bit of confidence, a little mojo.”
The Black Wolves had 12 penalty minutes on six infractions, but eight of the minutes came rapid fire in the second quarter with New England clinging to a 3-2 lead.
Joel Coyle was penalized for an illegal crosscheck, then hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top it. Before he could get back on the floor, Ryan Hotaling was sent to the penalty box for a two-minute illegal substitution penalty. Kevin Buchanan followed with an illegal crosscheck.
Toronto scored twice during that time, but the Wolves also responded with a pair of short-handed goals, one by Shawn Evans, who had his fourth straight hat trick, and one by Jay Thorimbert in transition. It was enough for the Wolves to maintain a 6-4 lead at halftime.
Evans, who needs 12 more points to become the eighth player in NLL history with 1,000 points, finished with three goals and an assist for New England. Veltman, Burns, Thorimbert and Kyle Buchanan had two goals each. Kirk and Kevin Buchanan each had four assists and Kyle Buchanan had three.
Veltman said he's had “the monkey on my back” in terms of scoring over the last few games. He said his fourth-quarter goal was set up by O'Connor, who set a pick for him while he was able to sneak inside.
“Coach TK (assistant coach Tracey Kelusky) keeps on saying, 'over the top, over the top, over the top,'” Veltman said of the play. “(O'Connor) was able to put it over the top. … It's fun working with Reilly. He played for Calgary last year and I spent five years in Calgary. We have similar mannerisms. We're on the same page.”
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