April 10, 2014

NLL Weekend: The Mad Dash for Playoff Spots

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

With three weekends of regular-season play remaining, Rochester, Buffalo, Edmonton and Calgary have clinched berths and Toronto-Philadelphia and Colorado-Vancouver scenarios are bound to produce the other two playoff-bound teams. Matchups this week (all times EDT):

FRIDAY

EDMONTON (14-0) at COLORADO (5-10), 9 p.m.

Edmonton clinched first overall with a 12-11 home win over Colorado last Saturday but letting an 11-5 lead slip away irked GM-coach Derek Keenan, who said his players took a step backwards with a terrible performance.

This is the fourth and final meeting. The Rush won the first three but Colorado is buoyed by overcoming an 11-5 deficit in Edmonton.

''You could actually see that we were making it hard on Edmonton to play against us,'' interim co-coach Pat Coyle said after that one. ''It feels like we're getting close to where we want to be.''

The Mammoth finish up April 19 at Minnesota and April 26 at Philadelphia and one win in their remaining three is probably all it would take to snare the NLL West's last playoff berth ahead of Vancouver. Can Colorado be the first team to knock off the Rush?

''We don't care about their streak at all,'' says interim co-coach Dan Stroup. ''We've just got to worry about what we're doing. We've got to put some wins together.''

Guarding against three- or four-goal opposition runs will be vital, says Mammoth forward Adam Jones.

Edmonton will get its first-ever home playoff game this spring. The date _ May 16 _ has already been set.

''It's going to be huge for the franchise,'' says assistant coach Jeff McComb.

''We want to come into the playoffs playing our best so we don't want to take our foot off the gas these last four games,'' said defenseman Ryan Dilks.

SATURDAY

PHILADELPHIA (5-10) at TORONTO (6-9), 7 p.m.

Toronto's 17-9 win in Vancouver combined with Philadelphia's 13-9 home loss to Calgary last weekend restored Toronto's one-game edge over Philadelphia in the struggle for the third and final playoff berth in the NLL East.

The teams split two earlier meetings and, because the winner of this third and final clash gets the tiebreaker should they finish with identical records, Toronto can clinch by winning this one, while a Philadelphia win would give the Wings the upper hand.

''It's a playoff game,'' says Rock leftie Josh Sanderson.

''It's do-or-die time,'' says Wings defenseman Brett Manney.

Toronto lost Garrett Billings, who has a league-best 102 points, to a knee injury last weekend. Fellow rightie Rob Hellyer stepped up with a 12-point game in Vancouver.

''He brings some speed to our lineup,'' says Sanderson. ''He's played pretty good for us and we expect that to continue.''

Hellyer and Kasey Beirnes will lug larger burdens on the right side.

''Things will change a little bit and we'll have to work as a unit to put up some numbers,'' says Sanderson.

''They're still got guys in their lineup who can put up big numbers,'' says Wings coach Blane Harrison. ''We'll have to put up 13 or 14 (goals) to give ourselves a chance.''

Toronto's defensive effectiveness has improved with Brandon Miller starting in goal the last two games.

''B. Miller has been solid,'' says Sanderson.

Philadelphia finishes up April 19 at Vancouver and April 26 versus Colorado. Toronto's schedule ends April 18 versus Buffalo and at Minnesota on April 26.

VANCOUVER (4-10) at ROCHESTER (11-4), 7:30 p.m.

Vancouver's chances of catching Colorado have declined drastically with four losses in its last five games. The Stealth are still only one-half a game back of the Mammoth but their awful showing in a 17-9 home loss to Toronto last Saturday provides no reason for optimism.

''It was a disappointing performance,'' said coach Chris Hall. ''Our defense was terrible throughout the entire game. It's one of those hard things to explain because we had been playing pretty well (defensively).''

It's a fine line between a win and a loss, said Hall. Losing two one-goal games to undefeated Edmonton is typical of the hard-luck Stealth season.

''When you have a couple of little things going wrong, it snowballs in a hurry,'' he said.

This is the only meeting this season. The last time they met during the regular season was Feb. 2, 2013, when Rochester went west and won by one goal. Rochester beat the Stealth in the championship game last May in another close contest.

Rochester looks set atop the NLL East after winning six of its last seven including a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota, although the Swarm gave the Knighthawks all they could handle.

''We've got to be better than we were last weekend,'' Hasen said. ''Vancouver is fighting for their lives so we've got to make sure we match that (determination).''

''It's a tough building to play in and a tough travel weekend for us but we've got to play our best and try to come out of there with a win,'' said Stealth forward Lewis Ratcliff.

''We expect their best game especially with them fighting for their playoff lives,'' said 'Hawks forward Stephen Keogh, who has been a scoring machine of late. ''The ball has been falling for me the last couple of games and hopefully that can continue.''

BUFFALO (8-6) at MINNESOTA (3-12), 8 p.m.

Buffalo's horrid fourth quarter (Calgary 7, Buffalo 1) led to a 16-13 loss at home, extending its losing stretch to four games. The Bandits were 8-2 and leading the NLL East not long ago and now they're 8-6 and sucking Rochester's fumes.

''We've got away from doing the little things,'' said assistant coach Rich Kilgour. ''We've got to get back to being a disciplined team. We've been spending a little too much time in the box lately.''

Forward Ryan Benesch agrees with Kilgour's assessment that the Bandits got a touch too full of themselves at 8-2. Hopefully, they're over that.

''We can't be complacent,'' said Benesch. ''We've got to be ready to battle every shift.''

These teams split two earlier meetings. Minnesota's two losses to Rochester last weekend left its longshot playoff aspirations hanging by a thread.

''We need to win and get some momentum _ for chemistry, for next year, maybe for our own pride,'' says Callum Crawford. ''I would love to finish on a high note and get three wins at the very least for our fans.''

The Swarm finish up at home April 19 versus Colorado and April 26 vs. Toronto.

EDMONTON at CALGARY (10-5), 9 p.m.

A two-game weekend puts Edmonton's record undefeated streak in jeopardy against a provincial rival that has been scorching hot in winning four in a row. Calgary won in Philadelphia and in Buffalo lasts weekend.

''All facets of our game were solid,'' said coach Curt Malawsky. ''I was very impressed with the way the guys competed and got the results we wanted.''

Edmonton won two previous meetings decisively.

''They don't have a lot of cracks in their armor,'' said Malawsky. ''They've got a great club, but we've got a great club, too.''

Calgary faceoff specialist Geoff Snider seconds that emotion.

''Fourteen and 0 in any sport is unbelievable and in lacrosse almost unheard of,'' said Snider. ''They're the type of team that will exploit you if you're making mistakes. We're going to come out and be hungry and fired up. I think it's going to be an awesome lacrosse game to watch.''

The result will have no impact in the West standings since both clubs are locked in.

''If we go in there taking them lightly, we know we're going to get (defeat) handed to us so we've got to go in there ready to play,'' said Dilks.

These teams clash again next weekend in Edmonton. The Rush then finish their schedule April 25 versus Vancouver while Calgary is at Vancouver on the closing weekend.


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