The Wings' (7-7) ability to play defense for 45 minutes last night allowed them to come away with a thrilling 12-11 victory over Eastern Division Champion Washington Power (9-6). In what was Paul Gait's final regular season game in Philadelphia before he retires at the conclusion of this season, the former Wing scored three points (1G, 2A) on ten shots but it was his only goal that almost closed the door on Philadelphia. The Wings started off with a stifling defense that was noticeably absent in recent weeks. Allowing Washington's offense one goal on seven shots in the first quarter was impressive considering last week's demise in Washington. Del Halladay got things started for the Power at 9:48 of the first quarter on what would be one of the few defensive breakdowns of the quarter. Starting from the left of Wings' goalie Dallas Eliuk, Halladay simply went in unchallenged on Eliuk and Washington had a 1-0 lead. The Wings came back with two power play goals by Jake Bergey at 12:29 and Mark Millon at 13:38; both goals were assisted by the game's high scorer, Kevin Finneran.
Things fell apart for the Wings in the second quarter. Following a roughing penalty by the Wings' Tom Ryan, Washington's Gary Gait scored on the power play at 1:06 to tie the game at 2-2. With the subsequent penalty to Tom Slate for an illegal check, the Power scored again on the power play just 15 seconds later as Bobby Horsey got behind Tom Ryan on a defensive change and easily beat Eliuk over his left shoulder. An even strength goal at 2:52 by Jeff Wills put Washington up 4-2 and the game's momentum dramatically switched in the course of the opening minutes of the second quarter. Jake Bergey got Philadelphia back to within one as he took an outlet pass from the Wings' defensive zone and found himself all alone in front of Washington goalie Erik Miller. Washington then scored three unanswered goals and the Wings' could see their season coming to a quick end. Paul Cantabene beat Peter Jacobs at 6:22 giving Washington a two-goal cushion. Following a shot that injured Wings' goalie Dallas Eliuk, Washington's Gary Gait scored his second of the night while Eliuk lay on the field in obvious pain. Play continued despite the Wings' attempt to cease the action and gait simply took advantage of the unopposed net. Eliuk would not return to play and was replaced by Chris Sanderson. Gary Gait completed the hat trick at 13:48 and Washington had a commanding 7-3 lead. Jeff Ratcliffe cut the score to 7-4 with 10 seconds to play in the half with an impressive display of passing between Tom Marechek and Mark Millon.
Things did not seem to get better for Philadelphia in the third quarter. As the fans were still getting settled in their seats, Josh Sims gave the Power their four goal cushion back at 0:28 of the third. Two power play goals by Philadelphia (one by Jake Bergey and one by Kevin Finneran) brought Philadelphia back to within two. For Bergey, it was his third of the night but it would not be his hat trick that generated the most excitement for the 13,717 fans. Del Halladay's second of the night made the score 9-6 Power and the Wings' fans were getting restless. Another nice sequence of passes between Mark Millon and Josh Ruhle led to Kevin Finneran's goal at 2:08 making the score 9-7. Philadelphia, while on the power play, once again got caught in transition as Gary Gait got behind Josh Ruhle and Tom Slate to score at 4:09 of the final quarter. Philadelphia quickly responded with Jeff Ratcliffe's power play goal at 4:27 making the score 10-8 Washington. A nice deke on Erik Miller at 9:46 by Jeff Ratcliffe brought Philadelphia back to within one and the Philadelphia crowd became alive again. Lacrosse legend Paul Gait's snuck behind the Wings' defense and his goal at 12:07 seemed to close the door on the Wings' playoff hopes. The remaining 2:53 of the game generated the most excitement at the First Union Center since the Rochester game. The Wings' Tom Ryan out-muscled Washington's John Gallant in front of Erik Miller and scored at 12:20, just 13 seconds after Paul Gait's goal and the score was 11-10 Washington. At 13:03, Mark Millon shot over the right shoulder of Miller tied the score at 11-11. The First Union Center was erupting with excitement and everyone sensed a Philadelphia victory. They were proven right just 49 seconds later on Jake Bergey's fourth goal of the game at 13:52 from Ryan Traynor and Jeff Ratcliffe. Philadelphia held on for what was their most exciting win in weeks and perhaps their most important win of the season. Wings' goalie Chris Sanderson played his best lacrosse of the season, earning him game MVP honors and Defensive Player of the Week honors from the National Lacrosse League. After the game, Wings' Coach Adam Mueller commented on the transition goals that continue to haunt Philadelphia. We're just a little bit lazy getting off the field...we're stopping and looking at the ball to see if we're going to get it.
The Wings will earn a playoff berth by winning its remaining two games against the Toronto Rock. If the Wings and Montreal finish with identical 9-7 records, Philadelphia makes the playoffs. Philadelphia's 4-2 is better than Montreal's 3-3 record against common opponents (Toronto, Rochester, and Buffalo). Should Philadelphia split their games against Toronto AND if Montreal loses to Albany AND Washington loses to Buffalo, the Wings would earn a playoff spot. Montreal, Buffalo, and Philadelphia would finish with 8-8 records with the Wings owning a better record vs. common opponents played the same number of times. If Montreal and Buffalo lose and the Wings split, the Wings chances (based on net goal differential) are slim.