Wings fall to playoff-bound Roughnecks

Wings captain Brodie Merrill moves with the ball during the Wings' 16-8 loss to the Calgary Roughnecks Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. (Wings photo)

Something had to give.

With huge playoff implications on the line, the Calgary Roughnecks and Philadelphia Wings both entered Friday night’s contest at the Wells Fargo Center riding two-game winning streaks. For the game’s first 50 minutes, it didn’t seem like either team was ready to remember how losing feels.

That is, until Dane Dobbie decided to take things over.

The NLL’s leading scorer broke an 8-8 tie with a pair of shorthanded goals just 45 seconds apart, propelling the Roughnecks to a 13-9 win over the Wings and clinch a playoff spot in the process.

It wasn’t an ideal start for Philly, as Calgary jumped out to an early 3-0 and nearly shut out the home team in the first quarter, going 14:35 without surrendering a goal.

Yet fighting for their playoff lives, the Wings stormed back with three goals in 3:09 to tie things up.

"It’s something we pride ourselves on," said forward Jordan Hall. "We just focus on picking each other up, because we know we have to make a big push."

The first half was historic; if nothing else, for the Wings as Ryan Ward tallied his 399th and 400th career assists and goalie Evan Kirk made his 1000th career save.

The teams would alternate goals for the remainder of the half, leaving Philadelphia trailing 5-4 despite a 29-22 advantage in shots.

But with his team desperately in need in offense, the Pat Saunders show took center stage in the third quarter.

With his goal to end the half and his hat trick to kick off the scoring in the third, Saunders tied his career high with four goals, eclipsed 20 in a season for the first time in his young career and gave the Wings their first lead of the night.

Despite the two-goal deficit, the Roughnecks proved their playoff worth, fighting back to tie things up with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.

With time ticking down before the final quarter, the entire arena seemed content with heading to the fourth in a tie.

That is, everyone except C.J. Costabile.

The transition player out of Duke scooped up a bouncing ball and took off in a dead sprint, rallying past teammates and defenders alike before powering home a shot past Mike Poulin to give the Wings a one-goal advantage with 2.4 seconds remaining in the third.

Not a bad time for the first goal of his career.

With momentum in their hands and Dobbie seemingly on lockdown (he managed just one goal in the first 45 minutes), the Wings seemed poised for an upset that would propel them into a playoff spot.

Yet somehow, Philadelphia’s demise came on its own power play.

Twice in less than a minute, the Wings offense overcommitted and left Dobbie free to sneak off the left side of the bench and face Evan Kirk one-on-one. He cashed in on both opportunities with relative ease and pulled the Roughnecks in front for good.

"I think we match up well with him in a five-on-five situation," said Wings head coach Blane Harrison. "But [Dobbie] is a crafty guy. If we don’t pick him up off the bench, he can still bring it to the net with a pretty good stick."

After the traumatic turn of events, the Wings simply couldn’t regain their mojo, allowing Calgary to score five of the game’s final six goals, capped off by former Wing Geoff Snider’s empty-netter with 25 seconds to play.

"It’s been the story of the season for us," said Harrison. "We’ve been close. It’s one of those games that gets very frustrating when it starts to slide away from you. We needed some of our veteran guys to step up."

Though not a veteran by service time standards, Harrison very well might have been talking about Kevin Crowley. Entering Friday, Crowley was tied for the team lead in goals and points, yet found himself on the outside looking in all night. The former first-rounder didn’t notch a single point in the losing effort.

With the season riding on next week’s matchup with Toronto, the team the Wings trail by half a game for the East Division’s final playoff spot. Hall is confident the team still has enough left in the tank.

"It’s going to be do or die," he said. It’s going to be an interesting one, but we’ll be ready."