Buoyed by a strong performance from new goaltender Corey Quinn, the Gamblers held on for an emotional 8-7 victory over the Brampton Excelsiors in Game Four of the Ontario Lacrosse Association's Major Division championship series Tuesday night in Marine Midland Arena.
The Excelsiors lead the best-of-seven series, 3-1, with Game Five set for 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Brampton Memorial Arena. Game Six, if necessary, would be at 7 p.m. Sunday in the MMA.
Quinn, making his first start ever in Majors after being called up from Junior A St. Catharines, had 40 saves and was able to hold off a late charge.
The win was sealed when the Excelsiors' Mike Murray clanked a shot off the goal post to Quinn's left with three seconds left. The ball struck iron so hard that it ricocheted harmlessly into the Brampton end as the final horn sounded.
"I was a little nervous for a second; I didn't know where it went," said Quinn, who was busiest in the manic third period, when he made 17 stops.
"I was a little worried when I saw it go over Corey's shoulder," Gamblers forward Travis Kilgour said. "But I had a good angle to see the shot and I saw it popped right out. . . . What a relief."
The Gamblers played defense with an intensity that was at times lacking during the first three games.
"We had no choice but to play that way," said Gamblers forward Derek Graham, who helped hold Excelsiors forward Chris Driscoll, the team's leading scorer during the regular season, without a goal.
Offensively, the Gamblers used a three-goal run that started late in the second period and ended early in the third to break away from a 4-4 tie, the fourth and final deadlock of the game.
Darris Kilgour scored the go-ahead goal with 5:18 left in the second when he fired a shot while falling to the turf. Brampton goaltender Pat O'Toole made the initial stop but the ball was shot with such force that it trickled between O'Toole's legs.
"Unlike the last game up in Brampton, when they scored on us tonight we didn't hang our heads on the bench," Darris Kilgour said. "That makes a big difference when everybody stays positive."
Graham made it 6-4 with just 3.7 seconds remaining in the period when he broke in alone on O'Toole to score off a long pass from Steve Fannell. Then Buffalo went up, 7-4, when a pass from Tim Soudan glanced off the tip of Derek Malawsky's stick and past O'Toole just 1:26 into the final period.
"It was like a hockey deflection except that it's flukier in lacrosse because you really never try to do it that way," said O'Toole, who made 36 saves. "We needed to come out in the third period and get a couple quick, but a cheesy goal like that gave them the momentum back."
Murray got Brampton within 7-5 with 15:54 remaining, then Travis Kilgour nailed Buffalo's last score with 11:51 to go. He skirted past Brampton defenders John Veltman, Chris Langdale and Driscoll to get an open shot against O'Toole.
"We played desperate lacrosse, which is what you're supposed to do from the start in a championship series," Travis Kilgour said.
Brampton got within one on scores by Ryan Sanderson, with 8:12 left, and Langdale, with 3:14 to play. But Quinn stopped Ted Dowling, Dan Teat and Dowling again in the last minute before Murray's final bullet struck the pipe, delighting about 1,000 fans.
Curt Malawsky was the lone Gambler with two goals. Dowling had two goals and two assists in defeat. The Gamblers will have to play Game Five without captain Randy Mearns, who suffered a dislocated left shoulder midway through the second period.