Home perfection didn't come easy for the Niagara Falls Gamblers.
The Ontario Lacrosse Association Major Division regular-season champions scratched and clawed their way to a 9-6 victory over the Brooklin Redmen before 682 sweltering fans at the Niagara Falls Memorial Arena Saturday night.
Referees Tim Vinson and Terry Morneau called the game just three minutes, 17 seconds into the third period because the concrete playing surface became unplayable due to the heat and humidity.
"It takes two periods for a game to be considered a complete game in this league, so it's a good thing we got ourselves together when we did," said Gamblers captain Rich Kilgour, who had a goal and an assist. The Gamblers (17-2) emerged from a 6-6 tie after the second period to score the game's final three goals, just before the contest was halted.
Niagara Falls finished its home schedule 10-0, and will most likely face Brooklin in the first round of the playoffs. Fourth-place Brooklin (6-13) is two points behind Six Nations (7-11) with just one game remaining.
"Between periods I talked to the guys and just told them to pick it up, but I also used a few choice words," said Gamblers forward Steve Fannell. "We clinched first place (Friday) night and maybe we came out a little complacent. You don't want to do that against a team you're gonna face in the playoffs."
It took a two-goal spurt by Niagara Falls' Mike Accursi to finally put some distance between the Gamblers and Redmen. Accursi beat Redmen goaltender Rob Blasdel on a breakaway just 29 seconds into the third to give the Falls the lead for good at 7-6. Blasdel, who was outstanding with 40 saves, stopped the ball initially, but Accursi's shot was so hard that it trickled between Blasdel's legs and into the net.
Accursi scored again, 2:36 later, to make it 8-6, then Jason Luke scored his division-leading 44th goal of the season, and second of the night to cap the scoring with 16:43 left.
The game resumed for another 4:05, but shortly after Brooklin's Jason Spoelstra and Niagara Falls' Tony Henderson both got six minutes in penalties for a brief altercation, the game was stopped.
"You just couldn't plant or cut or anything," said Luke. "It was like you skied instead of planted. I think the floor being in the shape it was really helped them (Brooklin) slow things down."
The Redmen, who were 0-5 against the Gamblers during the regular season, gave Niagara Falls fits for two periods. There were five ties and four lead changes and Blasdel continually frustrated the Gamblers.
"They stayed right in there because of the play of their goaltender," Gamblers forward Darris Kilgour said. "We hit a few posts and didn't take advantage of all our chances, but he was outstanding."
The Falls got goals from Randy Mearns, Steve Toll, Luke and Grant Johnston in the second period to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-6 tie.
The scores by Toll and Luke came with the Gamblers playing short-handed, something that happened a lot Saturday night. Niagara Falls was whistled five times for 18 penalty minutes in the first period alone, when Brooklin scored the last three goals to go ahead by two.
"Nobody's a star on this team, anybody and everybody is capable of stepping up at any time," said Mearns. "Everybody's a piece of the machinery and you can't put the clamps on all of us."
Darris and Rich Kilgour had the first-period goals for the Gamblers, who will close the regular season Thursday night at Brampton against the second-place Excelsiors (13-5). Niagara Falls is 0-2 in Brampton this season.
"We don't know who's going to be in the lineup for that game," Darris Kilgour said. "Brampton may get chippy for that game, who knows. We know we don't want people getting hurt with the playoffs coming up, but you can't worry about that stuff."
The Gamblers played without three regular forwards and lost a goaltender during the game. Travis Kilgour is nursing a broken left wrist and will continue wearing a cast for another week or so. Paul Day was in England for his brother's wedding and Marty Calder was in Poland, where he recently competed in the World Cup wrestling championships.
Ryan Kells, who started in goal for the Falls, went down with an injury to his right knee after giving up the first of Jonas Derks' two goals, which tied the game at 5-5.
Bob Watson, normally the Gamblers' starter, allowed only one goal the final 12:03.