April 23, 2010

NLL: Blazers, Bandits, Hawks Vie for Two Spots

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

With a playoff berth on the line, Buffalo's Mark Steenhuis will try to snipe the league's top goalie Anthony Cosmo at HSBC Arean on Saturday -- provided the Boston goalie wears legal padding.

© Steve Babineau

 

Parity held sway throughout the National Lacrosse League season, right down to this final weekend of regular season play when Boston, Buffalo and Rochester vie for the final pair of Eastern Division playoff berths.

Something will give on Saturday at HSBC Arena when the Blazers and the Bandits meet. Boston (8-7) earns a berth with a triumph over Buffalo or a Rochester loss to Washington.

The Blazers have won consecutive games, including a 9-7 victory last Friday in their first appearance at Denver’s Pepsi Center.

“I thought we battled through a lot of adversity," said Boston coach Tom Ryan. “I think a couple wins in a row have given our team some confidence, and we’ve really treated the last couple games as playoff games. And obviously, this one is as important or more important than the last two. We feel like we’re playing good Blazers lacrosse at this point in the season, and we’re ready for the challenge."

Reigning NLL Most Valuable Player Dan Dawson dominated, scoring five goals and assisting on three others to earn NLL Overall Player of the Week honors.

In a late stretch, Dawson scored four consecutive goals, tying the game at 7-7 and scoring what proved to be the game-winner. His swim move repeatedly enabled him to get around defenders for open looks at the net.

“He took Boston on his back and won the game," said Colorado coach Bob Hamley, who coached Dawson in Arizona for the now-defunct Sting.

Ryan was pleased to see Dawson at peak form despite a challenging schedule, due to his demanding and time-consuming new position as a rookie firefighter in Brampton, Ontario.

“It is good to see he’s found his groove now," Ryan said. “You know he’s as much of a competitior as anyone. He wants to win. As we’ve all seen in the last years, when it gets down to the wire, Dan steps up and plays his best."

Dawson and company will hit the road against a Buffalo team that must secure a victory to reach the postseason.

“We’re looking at it as this is the playoffs right now and we’re looking at, hopefully, the first of four playoff games,’’ said Buffalo associate general manager Derek Graham.

Later he added, “It is either win and play lacrosse or lose and play golf. And we want to play another month of lacrosse."

Buffalo (7-8) is still dealing with injuries to forward Tom Montour and goaltender Ken Montour. Graham predicts that Ken Montour will not recover in time.

“We think Mikey Thompson has stepped back to his old form and we’re confident with him being our starting goaltender," Graham said.

The Bandits are consistently inconsistent, most recently evidenced by their stellar first half against the Titans, followed by a scoreless second half in a 9-7 loss last weekend in Orlando.

“It is frustrating, from a coaching perspective, to know that we can be the best team in the league or we can be the worst team in the league," Graham said. “It is on the players now. It is time to step up and see if they are worthy of being a Buffalo Bandit. And Saturday night is the test."

The Rochester Knighthawks (7-8) punch their playoff ticket with a win over the Washington Stealth or a Buffalo loss.

Orlando (9-5) has already won the Eastern Division regular season crown with an opportunity to clinch the top seed in the playoffs via road wins over Philadelphia and Minnesota, combined with a Washington loss, or one win and a Washington or Calgary loss.

Toronto (9-7) is also an Eastern Division playoff participant.

In the Western Division, the Stealth (10-5) owns a playoff berth and can secure the division crown with a win over Rochester or a Calgary win. They also have the possibility of clinching the top seed in the playoffs.

Edmonton (10-6) has completed its regular season schedule, earning its first playoff berth in franchise history. Although idle, the Rush can secure a division crown and possibly the top seed, depending on the outcome of several weekend contests.

The defending champion Roughnecks (9-6) return to postseason play and can secure a second-place finish with a win over Colorado.

Regardless of weekend results, Minnesota (5-10) is the fourth seed, opening postseason play the weekend of April 30-May 2 at the arena of the West’s No. 1 seed.

Pad Check

In the wake of the illegal equipment penalty and game misconduct assessed to Boston goaltender Anthony Cosmo at the start of the fourth quarter against Colorado last Friday, Blazers coach Tom Ryan is taking no chances.

“That’s a conversation we’ll have," Ryan said of speaking to Cosmo about his pad size. “That’s something that caught us by surprise this week. Luckily, we were able to battle through it.

“Nick Rose came up with an amazing fourth quarter for us. But that’s something that, obviously going into these last couple games, everyone will have that in the back of their minds that if they get in a position where if they are down by a goal or two and want to change momentum they’ll look for that."

When asked what prompted the pad check of Cosmo, Colorado coach Bob Hamley said: “We weren’t getting any looks and I know he really extends himself with his equipment and, obviously, he got caught."

Hamley added: “The rule book is there for a reason. The players get their sticks checked every stoppage in the first half and the second half. It is in the rule book. We felt we could gain an advantage there; we didn’t."

Rose, who has played only seven minutes behind Cosmo, (the NLL’s leading netminder with a 9.25 goals against average and .805 save percentage), made 20 saves on 23 shots.

Lost Point

Colorado trailed Boston 3-2 at halftime last week.

Or did it?

When the players returned from the locker room, the scoreboard read 3-1.

Incredibly, crew chief Chet Couture took a goal away from Colorado at halftime.

Originally, a shot was ruled a non-goal when the ball hit Cosmo and landed on or over the goal line, depending on one’s perspective. Hamley threw the challenge flag, and upon review, it was ruled a goal.

Later, Couture told Hamley that he reviewed the wrong goal and upon reviewing the correct replay at halftime, he wiped out the goal.

“I don’t have an explanation for it," Hamley said, adding that the Mammoth missed numerous scoring opportunities regardless.

Referees don’t usually review goals at halftime. Moreover, scoring decisions in virtually any sport cannot be changed after such a lengthy passage of time.

“We said, ‘The half is over.' I didn’t understand it," Hamley said.

Ryan was also perplexed.

“That was definitely an unusual situation and circumstance," he said.

The NLL released the following statement:

“A play may only be reviewed upon an instant replay challenge with a final determination by the official to be made prior to the resumption of game action. Once game action has resumed following a challenge and review, the play can no longer be reviewed or overturned.

The NLL has a thorough officials' evaluation process in place and our officials are evaluated on their performances. Officials are held accountable, and in some rare cases, fines may be assessed as well as loss of game assignments. The League will fully review the entire incident including the game official's report as part of the evaluation process before making and determination."


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