April 8, 2011

National Lacrosse League Notebook: Playoff Spots to Be Won, Lost This Weekend

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

First place in the NLL's East Division will be up for grabs when the Buffalo Bandits play the Rock in Toronto on Friday night.

Toronto, 10-4, can clinch with a win and is looking for its first undefeated home season since 2002. The largest Air Canada Centre crowd of the year is expected for the last regular-season home start by goaltender Bob Watson, who previously announced his intention to retire at season's end.

A win by Buffalo, 8-4, would vault the Bandits into first and they'd be in the driver's seat since they have two games in hand. Buffalo finishes its schedule at Rochester on Saturday and with home games April 16 versus Boston and April 23 versus Rochester. Toronto finishes up April 16 at Edmonton.

The teams split two previous meetings so the winner of this one will possess the tiebreaker in case of identical season-ending records.

In the West Division, Calgary has already clinched first place.

Watson closes in on saves record

Bob Watson is 40 saves shy of breaking Pat O'Toole's pro record for most saves by a goaltender in regular-season play.

O'Toole had 6,464 career saves when he retired from the Rochester Knighthawks prior to the 2011 campaign. Watson has 6,425 going into the Rock home game against Buffalo on Friday night, which will be the last regular-season home start before his previously-announced retirement.

Watson, who turned 41 on Wednesday, has a league-best .799 save percentage.

The others (240 minutes played): 2. Tyler Richards, Washington, .792; 3. Mike Thompson, Buffalo, .789; 4. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .785; 5. Chris Levis, Colorado, .783; 6. Brandon Miller, Philadelphia, .769; 7. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .767; 8. Nick Patterson, Minnesota, and Matt Roik, Washington, .766; 10. Anthony Cosmo, Boston, .761; 11. Matt Disher, Edmonton, .755.

Rochester can still move up

The Rochester Knighthawks, coming off an impessive 19-8 win in Boston, still have a shot at moving up from third in the East and earning home floor for a first-round playoff game.

Games against Buffalo in Rochester this Saturday and in Buffalo on April 23, which is the last day of the NLL schedule, will tell the tale.

In the one previous meeting this season, Buffalo beat Rochester 11-8 at home on March 5.

Casey Powell points watch

Casey Powell of the Boston Blazers is within two points of making lacrosse history.

With his five points last time out, Powell now has 643 regular-season and playoff points combined. Former Philadelphia Wings star Kevin Finneran is the top point-getter among all American NLL players with 644. So, Powell's next point gives him a share of the record, and with one more after that he'll own it.

Boston's next game is at home Saturday night against Philadelphia.

Powell is 32 goals and 44 assists for 76 points this season, which is good for second place in the scoring race just behind Washington's Lewis Ratcliff who has 33 goals and 44 assists for 77 points.

Geoff Snider still the best

Geoff Snider earned the reputation as best faceoff man in lacrosse while he was with the Philadelphia Wings and nothing changed in that regard after he joined the Calgary Roughnecks this year. Snider is a league-best 201-for-286 on draws.

Younger brother Bob Snider of the Washington Stealth is 172-for-254 and Boston's Ryan Hotaling is 178-for-311. Others with more than 200 faceoffs to their credit: Philadelphia's Jeff Reynolds, 137-for-240; Colorado's Matt Leveque, 123-for-241; and Toronto's Stephen Hoar, 113-for-239.

Minnesota-Washington showdown

Minnesota, 6-7, looks to complete a season's sweep of Washington, 7-7, and leap past the Stealth into second place in the West Division when the teams collide in Everett, Wash., on Saturday night.

The Swarm have already defeated the Stealth twice: 16-8 at Everett on Jan. 14 and 11-10 in overtime at home on Jan. 29.

Fourth-place battles loom

The fourth and final playoff berths in both divisions will be up for grabs Saturday night.

In the East, Boston, 6-8, is at home to try to fend off Philadelphia, 5-8. The Blazers are a fragile bunch after losing five in a row, while the Wings are on a high after upsetting Toronto last Saturday night.

''We've played well on the road this year and we know they're in a little bit of a tough stretch right now,'' said Philadelphia coach John Tucker. ''Both teams know how important this game is.''

The teams split the two previous meetings so the winner of this one will have the tiebreaker should their records wind up identical.

Boston has a tough schedule closer April 16 at Buffalo, while Philadelphia plays at home Sunday against Rochester and winds things up April 16 at Minnesota.

In the West, last-place Colorado, 3-9, enhanced its chances with a 7-6 home win Saturday over Edmonton, 4-10, and plays Friday in Calgary and Saturday in Edmonton.

Edmonton and Colorado split two previous meetings, so the victor Saturday will own the tiebreaker and probably finish fourth and get the final playoff berth. Colorado is at home against Calgary on April 15 and at Minnesota on April 23, while Edmonton finishes its schedule at home against Toronto on April 16.

Grant at his best

John Grant is doing all he can to lift the Mammoth into the playoffs.

''John has really stepped up as of late and was crucial for us last weekend,'' said GM Steve Govett. ''Saturday was a must-win for this organization and John came through in the clutch.''

The NLL named Grant overall player of the week for scoring six goals and assisting on four in a weekend split with Edmonton.

Toronto loses another d-man

It didn't look like that big a deal when Drew Petkoff limped off the floor in the opening minute of Toronto's home game against Washington last Friday night, but he didn't return and the crutches he needed afterwards were a tip-off something was up.

On Wednesday, the Rock announced that Petkoff won't play again this year because he tore an ACL in a knee. The Rock went on to win 13-12 in overtime.

Toronto lost defenceman Ryan Sharp on Feb. 2 to torn MCL and ACL in a knee.

Phil Sanderson, who was held out of Toronto's two games last weekend because he was banged up, will likely be available for the Friday night showdown for first in the East against the visiting Buffalo Bandits, and GM Terry Sanderson has activated Tim O'Brien.


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