|Dhane Smith had 8 points for Six Nations, but Matt Vinc made enough saves to lead the Peterborough Lakers to a 13-10 win Thursday night, forcing a seventh and deciding game in the MSL finals. (Photo: Tim Prothero)|
The Peterborough Lakers had been in this situation before. It showed in the way they responded Thursday night in Game 6 of the Major Series Lacrosse championship series, winning 13-10 to force a Game 7 Monday night in Six Nations. You can watch the game live via JVI Sports Network.
Peterborough was down 3-2 after playing, as Head Coach Mike Hasen said, their worst game of the series in Game 5. Then, as had happened in every game in the series, Six Nations scored the opening goal Thursday when Johnny Powless tucked a shot home 43 seconds in.
The Lakers never let the Chiefs get more than a one-goal lead, though, and left the first period tied 5-5. The teams traded goals in the second with Cory Vitarelli getting the Lakers on the board 29 seconds in then Jeff Shattler answering at 8:26.
Then it became the Curtis Dickson show. Twice Dickson battled through a series of checks to fight his way to the net and score. Two other times he reared back and fired low shots that skipped into the net. His 4 goals in the second were part of a 6-2 period that sent the Lakers to the third with a four-goal lead.
After last year's seventh game, when the Chiefs scored the last seven goals including a 6-0 third, to stun Peterborough and take the MSL title, the Lakers and their nearly 3,500 fans weren't taking anything for granted. Adam Jones scored twice in the third to make sure the Lakers held on for the win despite a tremendous outing from Dhane Smith, who had 4 goals and 4 assists for the Chiefs to lead all scorers.
“It's a do or die game. We haven't faced one of those yet this year and we knew we had to come out strong and come out fast,” Dickson said. “We've let them carry the momentum early in games this series, especially the last few games, so we knew we had to come out quick. They got the first one there but we weathered the storm and got ourselves on a couple of runs. In the past three games, we've scored and let them come down and score. We were able to get up a couple of goals and I think that was the big difference.”
One notable difference in the Lakers approach Thursday was a commitment to pushing the pace in transition. Goalie Matt Vinc and the defenders were looking to push the ball up the floor any chance they got. It led to three transition goals in the first period and helped take some of the pressure off the offence, which had been struggling.
“They have a big, strong defence and when they get out there and get settled they do a pretty good job. Our offence has battled hard all series long and we thought maybe we'd give them a bit of a break and push the pace a little bit and that would alleviate some of the matchups,” said Brad Self, who helped make the strategy work with a goal and an assist. “If we're running the floor some of their guys maybe have to key on us a little bit and give our offensive guys a bit of space.”
The offence took advantage, especially Dickson. “That's unbelievable, isn't it?” Self said with an appreciative laugh. “When he decides he's getting to the net I'm not sure there's anybody in the world that's going to stop him. He's been unbelievable for us all year long. He did just that again tonight.”
The other key factor for the Lakers was the play of Vinc, who had given up 25 goals in his previous two games in the series, both losses. Vinc struggled a bit in the first period but was excellent from there on, making a number of big saves that allowed the Lakers to maintain and then build on their lead.
“We gave up a couple of shots early and that's not the way we wanted to start, but I think we settled in. I think the big difference today was how well our offence responded<' Vinc said. “Curtis Dickson got us going. The momentum's a little contagious. You just try as a goalie to make one save at a time and we were lucky to come away with a good team win.”
Chiefs Head Coach Rich Kilgour said he wasn't surprised by the effort Peterborough brought Thursday or by the fact that the series is headed to Game 7. Now, it's just come out ready for whatever happens on Monday. “Stick to the game plan. You've got to be ready for anything,” Kilgour said. “Who knows, maybe we'll have one of those 10-8 periods again like we had in Game 2. It could be a 2-1 game with the way these goalies can play and the defence can. You've got to be ready for anything, mentally prepared for anything.”
Neither team has forgotten what happened in last year's Game 7. The Lakers led 5-2 through three quarters of the second period and 5-3 heading into the third. Then the Chiefs romped in the third, blanking the Lakers 6-0 and heading off to win their second consecutive Mann Cup. “That might as well be 10 years ago,” Kilgour said, although he acknowledged that he talked to his team about drawing on the experience of last year. “Monday's all that matters. That's what we've got to start focusing on. I like drawing on stuff in the past where I've been successful, I know I can do it. That's what I told them, we were in this exact same position last year. We lost a tough Game 6, buck up and be ready for Game 7. That's all you can do at this point.”
Across the arena, outside the Lakers dressing room, Vinc didn't shy away from a question about last year's collapse. “That weighed heavily, especially when you watch them and see how successful they were in the Mann Cup. We were one period away from being there,” Vinc said. “Our goal at the beginning of the year is to get to the Mann Cup. We have one game. We've just got to be better. We've got to play 60 minutes. I don't think we played 60 minutes last year and hopefully we'll come in with a solid effort.”
There's not much more you can ask for, Vinc said. “It's two really good teams, great coaches. You look up and down the rosters and there's a lot of NLL all-stars out there. Put in this atmosphere and you can't really beat it. It's a fun time of year to be playing, and Game 7, that's what sports are all about is coming out there and seeing what team's going to have the best effort on the biggest night.”
That night will be next Monday at 8 pm at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena. The whole season comes down to one game, and it should be a dandy.