April 4, 2014

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NLL Weekend: Rochester Seeks Breathing Room in East

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

The Rochester Knighthawks hope to use a home-and-home set with the last-place Minnesota Swarm to extend their lead atop the NLL East this weekend. Meanwhile, Calgary flies east to play in Philadelphia and, for the first time in more than a decade, in Buffalo. All teams are in action. Here are the matchups (all times EDT):

FRIDAY

CALGARY (8-5) at PHILADELPHIA (5-9), 7 p.m.

This is the only meeting this year. The last time the Roughnecks played in Philadelphia, on Jan. 27, 2013, they won 16-8.

''It's the toughest trip of the season for us,'' 'Necks head coach Curt Malawsky says of the two-game swing east. ''It's going to be a real challenge for our guys.''

Calgary is coming off a 15-11 home win over Minnesota. Execution, especially on offense, pleased the coach.

''We should be able to give (Philadelphia) a good game,'' says Malawsky.

The 'Necks have been second in the West behind Edmonton most of the season, which has taken some getting used to, says defenseman Jon Harnett.

''It's definitely a change because it's been us up there the last couple of years,'' he said. ''We've got to be better these last five games if we want to beat them (in the playoffs).''

Philadelphia's 14-12 road win over Colorado last Saturday lifted it into a third place tie in the NLL East with Toronto. The Wings will be looking for a third straight win.

''We've clawed our way back into playoff contention,'' head coach Blane Harrison said during the league's weekly conference call Wednesday. ''The next couple of weeks we've got our destiny in our own hands but there is a lot of heavy lifting ahead of us.''

Improvements in transition have been a key to the Wings' turnaround, says Harrison.

''That's created a lot of (scoring) opportunities for us.''

Coping with Dane Dobbie, who has an NLL-best 37 goals, and the always dangerous Curtis Dickson will tax the Wings' defense.

ROCHESTER (9-4) at MINNESOTA (3-10), 8:30 p.m.

Watch on UniversalSports.com

The Knighthawks beat the visiting Swarm 8-6 on the season's opening night back on Dec. 26 and this home-and-home set wraps up the season series.

Rochester, coming off a 15-11 home loss to Edmonton, has a one-game lead over Buffalo atop the NLL East. Coach Mike Hasen said that loss exposed weaknesses that must be corrected.

''We need to be better,'' said Hasen.

Forward Dan Dawson and his teammates are not dwelling on it.

''As soon as we left the dressing room, that game was over and done with,'' he said. ''We've moved on. Our total focus now is on Minnesota. It's a very different Minnesota team than the one we faced at the beginning of the season. We know we're going to be in tough.''

Minnesota, coming off a 15-11 loss in Calgary, is within another loss or two of being mathematically eliminated from contention for a playoff berth. Reality is staring the players in the face, says assistant coach Aime Caines.

''This is our season these next two games,'' said Caines. ''We're approaching them as playoff games.''

''They're going to come out full force and we have to find a way to match that,'' said Hasen.

SATURDAY

MINNESOTA at ROCHESTER, 7:30 p.m.

Getting on one another's nerves much, boys?

Yes.

A handful of Minnesota players who are from Upstate New York or who played college ball there are looking forward to the trip. 'I love playing in Rochester,'' says RIT grad Alex Crepinsek.

A full 60-minute effort has eluded the Swarm but it is a must this weekend, said Caines. ''We have to be a family, especially this late in the year, and stick together.''

Rochester's offense was frustrated by Edmonton's defense last weekend and needs to step it up. ''That's one thing we're going to focus on, capitalizing on our opportunities,'' said Dawson.

CALGARY at BUFFALO (8-5), 7 p.m.

TSN2 in Canada, ESPN3 in the U.S.

Buffalo's 12-8 loss at Vancouver last Saturday was its third in a row. The road hasn't been kind to the Bandits.

''We're looking forward to getting back to some home cooking,'' said assistant coach Rich Kilgour. ''We've had an opportunity to clinch (a playoff berth) for the last couple of weeks and have kept letting it slip away. It's time to get back to business. Hopefully we can get it over and done with.

''We've been struggling for a little bit. If we want to get something done this year, now is the time to do it.''

Defenseman Steve Priolo seconds that emotion.

''It's the perfect time for a home game,'' says Priolo.

This is the only meeting this year and the first since March 24, 2012, when the Bandits lost 17-6 in Calgary in a game that saw five players ejected after a brawl with five minutes remaining. Only six players in Buffalo's current lineup were in the orange and black for that game.

Calgary's only previous game in Buffalo was in the team's second year in the league in 2003. That happened to be the game in which captain Andrew McBride made his NLL debut.

Calgary comes into First Niagara Center from its game in Philadelphia the previous night. Malawsky predicts a close struggle.

''We're hoping to hang in there and hopefully catch a break late in the game,'' he said.

Buffalo transition player Andrew Watt, who has been out with a separated shoulder, has resumed practising in full gear and is close to being reinserted into the lineup.

It is ''Tucker Out Lymphoma Night'' in support of the fight against Lymphoma being waged by Tucker Williams, the son of veteran Bandits forward Shawn Williams.

COLORADO (5-9) at EDMONTON (13-0), 10 p.m.

Edmonton's 13-10 win in Toronto last Sunday earned it the record for longest single-season winning streak in league history and the Rush can clinch first place overall by winning this one. Beating the defending champs in Rochester the previous night was none too shabby either.

''This group just continues to focus on our objective of trying to get better each week,'' said GM-coach Derek Keenan. ''We passed a very tough test last weekend.''

Colorado is third in the West but only one-half a game ahead of Vancouver after losing 14-12 at home to Philadelphia last weekend. Interim co-coach Dan Stroup is looking for more goals.

''We need to score when the game is on the line,'' said Stroup. ''Obviously, we're going in as the underdogs but we're not going to mail it in.''

This will be the third of four meetings. Edmonton won 13-10 at Colorado on Dec. 28 and 17-6 at home on Jan. 11. They tangle again next weekend in Denver.

''We're facing a desperate team and they can be difficult games to play so we have to be prepared to play our best,'' said Keenan. ''Everybody we face now is in desperation mode . . . it's getting to that point in the season where there's going to be nothing left out on the turf.''

Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward won't be intimidated facing the undefeated Rush.

''If you want to be the best you have to beat the best,'' said Ward.

TORONTO (5-9) at VANCOUVER (4-9), 10 p.m.

This will be the second of two meetings. The Rock beat the Stealth 17-12 in Toronto on Jan. 31. Both need a win as both are teetering between making or missing the playoffs.

''You've got two desperate teams,'' said Rock coach John Lovell. ''We're in playoff mode the same as Vancouver.''

Toronto's 13-10 home loss to Edmonton last Sunday was its fifth loss in its last six games. The power play let the Rock down against the Rush, said Lovell. Otherwise, ''We put in one of our better efforts of the season. The guys were more focused and more determined about what they had to do.''

Lovell said it will be a game-time decision on whether Brandon Miller, who played well against the Rush in his Rock debut Sunday, or Nick Rose starts in goal. Rose played well in earlier games without being rewarded with wins, said Lovell, so he deserves another start.

A few more goals from Kasey Beirnes would spur the Rock offense.

''We've just got to keep everyone on the same page,'' Beirnes said of the late-season urgency, adding that some finger-pointing evident earlier in the season has been dealth with.

Vancouver had lost three in a row before its 12-8 home win over Buffalo last weekend. Being in off the road helps.

''It's nice to have our crowd behind us, that's for sure,'' said assistant coach Dan Perreault.


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