March 14, 2014

NLL Weekend: Time for Teams to Make Their Move

by Neil Stevens | | Twitter

It is the middle of March and in the NLL that means it is time for teams to bear down if they hope to earn a division title or a playoff berth. There are five games on this critical last weekend of winter. Rochester and Toronto each play twice. Here are the matchups (all times EDT):


EDMONTON (9-0) at CALGARY (6-4), 9 p.m. (YouTube/TLN)

This is the second of four meetings. The Rush won 15-8 at home back on Jan. 17 and, if the West leaders win this one, they will be impossible for second-place Calgary to catch. The Alberta rivals will beat up on each other again April 12 in Calgary and April 19 in Edmonton.

''If you don't put in 60 (minutes), you don't have a chance to win,'' Calgary coach Curt Malawsky says of the challenge the Rush present. ''You've got to pretty well play mistake-free lacrosse against these guys.''

Edmonton, coming off a 10-9 home win over Vancouver, is the first team in league history to be undefeated through nine games. It's a resilient group, says assistant coach Jimmy Quinlan.

''It's every guy pulling on the same rope and we're having success because of that,'' said Quinlan. ''We're a confident group right now.''

Calgary had a win streak snapped at four when it lost 10-9 in Denver last Saturday, when league-leading goal scorer Dane Dobbie couldn't add to his 30-goal total. The 'Necks are the highest-scoring team in the league.

''We know we're going to have our hands full, that's for sure,'' Quinlan said during the league's weekly conference call Wednesday.

''To walk into the Saddledome in Calgary to get a win, it's tough,'' said Rush forward Mark Matthews.

Defenseman Dan McRae intends to make it as tough on Matthews as he can.

''This is a chance for us to make up some ground,'' said McRae.

Edmonton has one of the NLL's best defense corps and Malawsky will prod his D-men to be just as good Friday night.

''I expect the same from our group and if we get anything less than that we won't be successful,'' said Malawsky.

Rush rookie Riley Loewen left last weekend's game early.

''It turned out to be less (serious) than originally thought,'' Quinlan said, adding Loewen's availability will be a game-time decision.


ROCHESTER (7-3) at TORONTO (4-6), 7 p.m. (TSN, ESPN3)

Rochester beat Philadelphia 13-8 at home last weekend and can be assured of at least a second-place finish in the East by beating the third-place Rock for the third time this season. Rochester won 12-8 at home on Jan. 18 and 17-9 in Toronto on Feb. 15 and now will attempt to sweep the season series.

''It's always a tough barn to get a win in,'' said defenseman Jon Sullivan.

Toronto had a bye last weekend after being smacked 19-13 in Calgary on March 1. The Rock urgently need a win or two or they'll risk being overtaken by Philadelphia or Minnesota down the stretch. Toronto has the league's top point-getter in Garrett Billings (70) and No.2 goal scorer in Stephan Leblanc (29) and they'll both have to be at their best for the Rock to dent the Knighthawks diligent defense.<

''The break came at a good times for us,'' said Rock coach John Lovell. ''We had guys who were banged up. We know this is a critical game. We've got to try and get back on track.''

Pat Merrill missed the trip to Alberta with pneumonia and Rob Marshall and Bill Greer have been banged up but all will be available this weekend. Rochester defenseman Mac Allen can return to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension.

''Haser has them playing a heck of a system,'' Rock forward Josh Sanderson says of Rochester's D corps. ''When we get good (shooting) looks, we've got to bury them. (Rochester) and Edmonton are obviously the best defenses in the league right now.''

COLORADO (5-7) at BUFFALO (7-2), 7:30 p.m. (YouTube/TLN)

This is the second of two. Buffalo won 16-9 in Denver on Jan. 18. Buffalo is coming off a 12-9 home win over Minnesota and has won seven of its last eight as it tries to hold onto first place in the East with Rochester close behind.

''Our offense finally got rolling in the second half and we were able to pull one out,'' GM Steve Dietrich said of the win over the Swarm.

He's leery of the Mammoth offense.

''I don't know if there's another team in the league that can put out six lethal weapons like they can,'' he said.

Colorado strengthened its grip on the third and final playoff berth in the West when it beat Calgary 10-9 in overtime at home last weekend with interim coaches Pat Coyle, Chris Gill and Dan Stroup behind the bench for the first time. Gill is looking forward to being back in Buffalo, where he always enjoyed playing.

''I love it when crowds are going nuts,'' said Gill.

What has been the new staff's top priority?

''You win or lose games with your defense so we wanted to shore some things up defensively,'' said Gill. ''We're not trying to change things all over the place. We're just trying to tweak things here and there and the guys are all buying in.''

The Mammoth eagerly await the return of Adam Jones, who had a league-best 25 goals before going down with a shoulder injury in the team's eighth game Feb. 1.

''Hopefully, he's going to be ready this week,'' said Gill, adding that a doctor's go-ahead would be required first.


ROCHESTER at PHILADELPHIA (3-8), 4 p.m. (YouTube/TLN)

This is the third between these two squads in a series of three this season.

Rochester, which leads the East, won 13-9 at home on Jan. 11 and 13-8 at home last Saturday.

''The last game we played against Philly was a tough physical battle and going into their barn we expect the same thing,'' said Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen.

The 'Hawks will fly to Philadelphia immediately after the game in Toronto. They fell behind early last game so a better start is a must in both of the team's games this weekend, said Sullivan.

Philadelphia has lost five in a row since a February 1st win over the Vancouver Stealth at home. Since that point, the Wings have fallen to Toronto, Edmonton, Buffalo, Minnesota and Rochester. The two home games in that span, against the Rush and Swarm, were close at two and one goal, respectively. The road tilts were not, coming by a combined 21 goals.

''It is frustrating,'' said coach Blane Harrison. ''It's not one specific thing. At the end of the day, our best guys have to be our best guys.''

Wings rookie Mike Poppleton says a 60-minute effort is overdue.

''We've shown moments of greatness but we've got to go back to the little things and piece it all together for a full game,'' he said.

TORONTO at MINNESOTA (2-8), 6 p.m. (YouTube/TLN)

The Rock beat the Swarm 14-12 in Toronto on Feb. 22. This game and the one on April 26 will be played in St. Paul, and the Swarm need to win both to retain hope of overtaking Toronto for the third and final playoff berth in the East. The Swarm lost 12-9 in Buffalo last Saturday.

Toronto players might run out of gas less than 24 hours after a tough battle with Rochester but Lovell downplays the possibility. Regardless, the Rock road record is mediocre.

''I don't think the travel has anything to do with it,'' said Lovell. ''Our issues have more to do with consistency and giving up the big run.''

Rock players will fly to Minnesota on Sunday morning so it'll be a long day.

''I don't even want to think about that now,'' said Lovell, saying the game Saturday is the team's emphasis.

Sanderson is optimistic about the second half of the Rock schedule.

''If we can tighten up a couple of things, I think we're going to have a pretty good ball club going down the stretch.''


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