April 25, 2014

NLL Weekend: Second Place in East Up for Grabs

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

Second place in the NLL East is a remaining plum and a scoring champion will emerge during the final weekend of the regular season. The matchups (all times EDT):

VANCOUVER (4-12) at EDMONTON (15-2)

Friday, 9:30 p.m.

Edmonton rallied to win both earlier meetings by one goal.

Vancouver won't be in the playoffs and would be better off losing this one to retain the possibility of getting the No. 1 pick in the September entry draft. The Stealth have dropped three in a row including a 15-11 home loss to Philadelphia last Saturday.

''We struggled to get goals and that's been a bit of an ongoing problem,'' said coach Chris Hall.

The two games the Stealth have this weekend amount to an evaluation process for next season.

''When you step on the floor you do the best you can every single time and anything less than that is unacceptable,'' Hall said during the league's weekly conference call.

''You play for pride, for your owners, for your fans and for your teammates,'' says captain Kyle Sorensen. ''Guys are playing for jobs now. If anything, that's motivation.''

It can't be called a meaningless game for the Rush because giving their best effort for the home fans is always the aim and they'll want to atone for a 14-13 home loss to Calgary last Saturday. Having already clinched first place overall, they have the luxury of sitting out anybody with the slightest ache and giving backup goalie Brodie MacDonald the start, but GM-coach Derek Keenan isn't tipping his hand.

''We want to ramp this up to playoff tempo, to where we want to be two weeks from this weekend,'' said GM-coach Derek Keenan. ''We need to fix a few things and we plan on doing that this weekend.''

ROCHESTER (13-4) at BUFFALO (8-9)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Rochester won both of its home games against Buffalo this season including an 8-4 battle last Saturday. The 'Hawks have won four in a row and eight of their last nine. They are the hottest team in the league right now, and coach Mike Hasen wants to add to the momentum with another win before having next weekend off.

''Historically, the team that has the first-round bye comes out flat and we don't want that to happen,'' he says.

Rochester, like Edmonton, will get the first-round bye that goes with winning the division, but don't expect the Knighthawks to ease off in what appears on the surface to be a meaningless game for them. They lost their first visit to First Niagara Center 11-10 back in January and won't want to go into the playoffs winless in Buffalo and, besides, Cody Jamieson has an outside chance of winning the scoring title.

Buffalo has lost seven in a row but will be looking for a win here to clinch second place and home floor for the division semifinal against Toronto.

''It's pretty amazing to consider we've lost seven in a row because we're a better team than that,'' said GM Steve Dietrich. ''We've got to get a win. We have a real good record at home and we've struggled on the road. We want to play Toronto in our building.''

Right-hand shooter Joe Resetarits agrees.

''It's definitely going to be a big test for us to get the monkey off our backs,'' he said.

The pressure is on the offense.

''It just hasn't meshed,'' says Dietrich. ''We need more production out of our left side. If we're going to go anywhere, our left side has to step up or it's going to be a pretty short playoff run for us.''

Veteran defenseman Billy Dee Smith will remain out of the lineup Saturday but Dietrich says he'll likely be fit in time to face Toronto.


Saturday, 7:30 p.m. | Video at UniversalSports.com

Nothing is at stake for two teams locked into positions. Colorado can rest players if it so chooses, while the Wings will try to give their hard-core faithful something to cheer about to close out their season. In one previous meeting this year, Philadelphia won 14-12 in Denver.

Colorado is coming off an 18-12 win in Minnesota.

''Every game we seem to be getting a little bit better,'' said interim co-coach Chris Gill.

Philadelphia is coming off a 15-11 win at Vancouver. Goalie Evan Kirk didn't make that trip after coming down with food poisoning. He should be back between the pipes for this one.

''If we do well this weekend, we can tie (Colorado) in overall records,'' said coach Blane Harrison. ''We'll certainly be taking that kind of mindset into the game Saturday.''

It'll be Colorado's tuneup for its May 3 semifinal game in Calgary.

''We've got to keep our game moving forward,'' said Gill. ''We've got a lot to improve on. There's 0 per cent chance we can coast. We just want to get the ship read for the playoffs, come out hard against Philly and show them what we've got. We'd like to pay them back (for the 14-12 loss). We're focused heavy on this game so we're ready to go next week. There will be no passengers in this game. It can't happen.''

Rookie goalie Dillon Ward has impressed.

''We've been clicking down the stretch,'' he said. ''The back end has really been playing well in front of me.''

John Ranagan of the Wings looks forward to a last chance this season to play for Wings fans on Fan Appreciate Night.

''We have a really great fan base that is really loyal to us,'' he said. ''We're playing a team that has something we wanted, a playoff berth next weekend, so I'm sure we'll be ready to go.''

TORONTO (8-9) at MINNESOTA (4-13)

Saturday, 8 p.m.

If Buffalo loses to Rochester, Toronto can sneak into second place in the NLL East and earn home floor for its semi against the Bandits.

''We've had big games for a number of weeks now so it's no different,'' coach John Lovell replied when asked about the importance of this game.

A 13-9 home win over Buffalo last Friday was the third in a row for the surging Rock, who have kept winning despite losing league-leading scorer Garrett Billings to a torn right knee ligament.

''It seems like we're kind of finding our groove right now,'' said defenseman Cam Woods. ''We're a confident group. We feel as if we're starting to click on all cylinders. Hopefully we're hitting our stride at the right time. We'd like to keep building moving forward.''

The Rock season has been on the upswing since the acquisition of veteran goalie Brandon Miller five weeks ago, although it was Nick Rose who earned first-star status in the win over Buffalo

''It's a luxury, for sure, to have two No. 1s,'' said Woods.

Minnesota's lopsided home loss to Colorado does not suggest a last-game victory is in the cards for the Swarm, who lost both previous meetings with the Rock this season _ 14-12 in Toronto on Feb. 22 and 9-8 at home on a Colin Doyle OT goal on March 16 _ but ending up with a home win for their fans is paramount in Swarm thinking.

''We really want to put a show on and entertain them,'' said assistant coach Aime Caines.

CALGARY (11-6) at VANCOUVER (4-12)

Saturday, 10 p.m.

Calgary is already 3-0 against Vancouver by decisive scores this season _ 15-12, 20-9 and 13-8 _ so this is shaping up as a shootout. Shawn Evans can overtake Toronto's injured Garrett Billings and snatch the scoring crown for the second year in a row if he has a big night, which is highly probable against a last-place club that has not been getting winning goaltending of late. Coach Curt Malawsky insists he'll approach this one as if it's a playoff game.

''You take your foot off the pedal one week and it can translate into a bad start next game,'' said Malawsky.

The Roughnecks 14-13 win in Edmonton put them in a good frame of mind moving towards their home semifinal game against Colorado next weekend.

''It was nice for us to get that confidence builder,'' said Malawsky.

''It was huge for us,'' said faceoff specialist Geoff Snider.

Hall said he expects the 'Necks will want to hone their offense in looking forward to the May 3 home semifinal showdown with Colorado.

''I would expect they'll be working to be playoff ready for next week.''

Regarding the entry draft scenario, Minnesota and Vancouver enter the closing weekend with four wins each. A Minnesota win and two Vancouver losses would leave Vancouver last overall and in line for the No. 1 pick. At the very least, a top-two pick is likely for the Stealth.

''It's been a long time since we were in that position,'' said Hall. ''We need to add a marquee player to our lineup. We're looking forward to looking at the prospects during the offseason and doing our homework to narrow down who'll be the best players available.''

If the teams finish the season with identical records, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head matchups, and Vancouver was victorious the only time they met. Thus, Vancouver would finish one spot ahead of Minnesota in the overall seeding of teams that the league does at the end of the regular season. Minnesota would again have the No. 1 pick.

Nothing is set in stone, however, because an expansion team would automatically move to the top of the draft list should a franchise be added.

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