NLL Playoffs: Knighthawks defeat Black Wolves 15-11

Matt Vinc makes a save. (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Knighthawks)

Austin Shanks, Brad Gillies lead Knighthawks attack; will face Georgia in eastern division finals.

Friday night the Rochester Knighthawks defeated the New England Black Wolves 15-11 in the NLL’s east division semi-final.  With the win, the Knighthawks advance to face the Georgia Swarm next Saturday night in Georgia at 7:05 p.m. The winner will advance to the NLL Cup (best of 3 series).

During the regular season the Knighthawks lost all three games to the Black Wolves and were outscored 31-23, so many out there wondered whether or not the Knighthawks could win a playoff matchup.

These teams just played two weeks ago in Rochester and the Black Wolves walked out with a decisive 11-6 victory. The Knighthawks are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Rookie Austin Shanks scored three of the Knighthawks’ first four goals.

“It was awesome. It takes the monkey off our back,” said Shanks in a Knighthawks’ press release. “They swept us during the regular season, so it was nice to come out here in the playoffs, when it matters, and take that W.”

Rochester never trailed as they opened the game with a quick four goal lead. The Black Wolves responded by scoring four of the next five goals to get within a goal early in the second quarter, but that was as close as the Black Wolves would get.

Rochester went on a six goal run in the second, with Shanks scoring his fourth of the night with 14 seconds remaining in the half. Rochester took a big 11-4 lead into halftime.

New England started the third quarter with their own four-goal run and outscored the Knighthawks 5-1, but trailed by three as the third ended. It could have been a complete turnaround if it wasn’t for goalie Matt Vinc.

Vinc played a spectacular game, especially in the second half as he limited the second chance opportunities, stopping 49 shots and passing Hall of Fame goaltender Dallas Eliuk for second all-time in playoff saves.

“It’s just great to be back in the playoffs,” said Vinc. “That’s why we play. We established something when I first got here in Rochester. The norm was being in the playoffs, and we got away from that. With all those individual records, it’s all about wins and losses.”

And as great as Shanks and Vinc were for the Knighthawks, it was Brad Gillies who stole the show by scoring his first professional hat trick. For his second goal, Gillies intercepted a pass and flew in on a breakaway to put the Knighthawks up 13- 10 in the fourth quarter. Cory Vitarelli scored 1:11 later to increase the lead to four and take any momentum away from New England. The Black Wolves managed one more goal but Gillies scored an empty net goal.

“The crowd was electric tonight. To do that in front of them was a great feeling,” Gillies said.

Rochester’s transition game was a big part of the victory as they scored six of the teams’ goals.

This was the second straight game that Rochester’s defense held leading goal scorer Kevin Crowley without a goal.

Callum Crawford, Reilly O’Connor and Stephan LeBlanc each had three goals and one assist. Kevin Crowley added four assists. Aaron Bold and Doug Jamieson combined for 45 saves in a losing cause.

Austin Shanks (4G/1A), Brad Gillies (3G/1A) and Joe Resetarits (2G/4A) led the attack for the Knighthawks.