Rochester, N.Y. — The New England Black Wolves staged one comeback after another during Friday night’s NLL East Division semifinal playoff game at Rochester before ultimately succumbing to the Knighthawks 15-11 at Blue Cross Arena.
Callum Crawford, Stephan Leblanc and Reilly O’Connor each had three goals and one assist while Kevin Crowley had four assists for the Black Wolves.
Rookie Austin Shanks led the Knighthawks with four goals.
Trailing 11-4 at halftime, the Black Wolves appeared to be finished for 2017-18. But New England has rallied from early deficits all season, and they have also given the Knighthawks fits, including a 3-0 regular-season sweep that included two wins at Blue Cross Arena.
So when the third-seeded Black Wolves opened the second half with four unanswered goals to pull within 11-8 midway through the third quarter — Crawford had two of the goals while Leblanc and O’Connor also scored — the momentum shift was palpable.
The Black Wolves would get as close as 12-10 when Leblanc scored short-handed off a feed from Crowley 41 seconds into the fourth quarter.
But goals by Brad Gillies (three goals, one assist) and Cory Vitarelli (two goals, two assists) pushed the Rochester lead back to 14-10 with just under 10 minutes remaining and that was just enough.
Gillies added an empty netter in their closing minutes after O’Connor had pulled New England within 14-11.
The Black Wolves trailed 4-0 in the first 7:38 of the game, with Shanks accounting for three of the goals while Kyle Jackson also snuck one by goalie Aaron Bold.
New England answered with goals from Leblanc and Crawford later in the first quarter cut the deficit to 4-2. And just 1:50 into the second quarter, the Black Wolves were back within 5-4 after O’Connor and Kyle Buchanan responded to a goal from Gillies with goals of their own.
But goals from Eric Fannell, Jackson, Joe Resetarits (two goals, four assists) and Vitarelli in a span of just over four minutes pushed the Rochester lead to 9-4, and Bold was replaced by backup Doug Jamieson.
That did not slow the Rochester attack. Graeme Hossack made it 10-4 with 4:29 left in the half, and Shanks beat Jamieson with just over 13 seconds left before the break to make it 11-4.
Bold returned in the second half and made a number of tough saves to help the Black Wolves rally.