May 2, 2012

Stevens' NLL Playoff Previews, Predictions

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

A look at the National Lacrosse League playoff matchups:

East

Drew Westervelt (right) leads the Wings in goals with 36, along with rookie of the year contender Kevin Crowley.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

No. 3 Philadelphia (7-9) at No. 2 Rochester (7-9)

When: 7:30 p.m. EDT Friday

2011 playoffs: Rochester lost 10-8 in Toronto in first round; Philadelphia did not qualify.

Last playoff meeting: 2001; Philadelphia edged Rochester 12-11 in first round on way to winning Champion's Cup.

Season series: Rochester swept 3-0 (Jan. 14, Rochester 22 at Philadelphia 12; March 3, Rochester 11 at Philadelphia 8; April 28, Philadelphia 7 at Rochester 9)

Knighthawks: 2-2 in last four regular-season games including win over Wings in finale . . . Eager to play first home playoff game since 2007, when franchise last won league title . . . Matt Vinc's .753 save percentage sixth-best among the eight goalies slated to start first-round games . . . Cody Jamieson scored team-best 36 goals . . . Rookie Stephen Keogh quickly becoming one of the best in-traffic shooters . . . Regular-season home record 5-3 this year . . . Last won title in 2007.

Head coach Mike Hasen: ''We knew we were going to have growing pains throughout the season and it's just a matter now of peaking at the right time. We need a little bit more from our offense, especially on the power play. Special teams are going to be the difference in this game, I believe.''

Wings: Lost last five regular-season games including 9-7 schedule-ender in Rochester . . . First post-season appearance since 2008 . . . Brandon Miller's .742 save percentage is poorest among the eight goalies expected to start this weekend . . . Top goal scorers are Drew Westervelt and Kevin Crowley with 36 each . . . Lowest-scoring team in East . . . Allowed most goals against in league . . . Regular-season road record was 4-4 . . . Haven't won title since '01.

GM-coach Johnny Mouradian: ''We match up very well with them. We've had two real close ones . . . anybody could have won those games. Our aim is to concentrate on what we have to do to be successful.''

Prediction: Knighthawks

No. 4 Buffalo (7-9) at No. 1 Toronto (9-7)

When: 7 p.m. EDT Saturday

Last playoff meeting: Toronto squeaked past Buffalo 12-11 in division final on way to winning Champion's Cup last spring.

Season series: Buffalo had 2-1 edge (Jan. 14, Toronto 10 at Buffalo 14; March 16, Buffalo 21 at Toronto 14; March 31, Toronto 15 at Buffalo 9)

Rock: Won five of last six regular-season games after acquiring Nick Rose and installing him as No. 1 goalie upon releasing Matt Roik. . . Rose has never started an NLL playoff game . . . Rose's .751 save percentage is seventh-best among eight goalies projected to start this weekend . . . Garrett Billings scored team-high 32 goals and set NLL record with 82 assists . . . F Dan Carey has missed last four games after taking a high hit . . . The Rock have won only three of eight home games this year.

GM Terry Sanderson: ''Nick Rose will approach this game like any other game. His job is to stop the ball and that's all he's going to be focused on.''

Bandits: Won their last two games . . . Anthony Cosmo, carrying the Bandits goaltending load with Mikey Thompson laboring on a banged-up knee, has a .759 save percentage that is fourth-best among playoff starters . . . John Tavares scored a team-best 41 goals including four against Rose on March 31. Tavares scored league-high 21 on power plays . . . The Bandits are an unimpressive 3-5 on the road . . . Viewing this as payback time for that one-goal home loss in last spring's division final . . . Last won title in 2008.

Associate GM Derek Graham: ''The way Anthony has been playing the last four or five games, he's been getting better and better. If our defense continues to play well in front of him, he should have a good game. He'll be ready, I'm sure.''

Prediction: Rock

West

Chris Levis' .758 save percentage is fifth-best among playoff starters.
© Colorado Mammoth

No. 3 Minnesota (9-7) at No. 2 Colorado (11-5)

When: 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday

2011 playoffs: Colorado lost first-rounder 10-6 at Calgary; Minnesota lost first-rounder 14-8 at home to Washington.

Last playoff meeting: None

Season series: Colorado had 2-1 edge (Minnesota 14 at Colorado 20, Jan. 14; Colorado 12 at Minnesota 7, Feb. 18; Colorado 13 at Minnesota 16, April 28)

Mammoth: Lost last two regular-season games . . . Captain Gavin Prout sat out last two after lower body injury but will play Saturday . . . John Grant Jr. led league with 50 goals . . . Offense produced league-high 217 goals . . . Chris Levis' .758 save percentage fifth-best among playoff starters . . . Allowed most goals against in West. Ranked eighth in NLL . . . Regular-season home record was 5-3 . . . Lone title was won in 2006.

Head coach Bob Hamley: ''We're very proud of our guys with an 11-5 record but that doesn't mean a lot right now other than we're happy we're going to get to play at home.''

Swarm: Won last four regular-season games . . . Ryan Benesch top goal scorer with 33 . . . Offense ranked third in NLL . . . Evan Kirk, who'll get the goaltending start if the team continues its practice of rotating Kirk and Tyler Carlson, has a league-best .807 save percentage . . . Defense ranked fifth in NLL . . . 11 rookies in lineup last weekend . . . Captain Andrew Suitor having award-worthy season . . . Road record a mediocre 3-5 . . . Have never won Champion's Cup . . . Home win over Mammoth last Saturday generated momentum . . . Swarm 0-5 in playoffs in franchise history.

Associate GM-coach Joe Sullivan: ''I don't expect Levis to allow 16 goals this weekend and I expect them to come at us a lot harder.''

Prediction: Mammoth

No. 4 Edmonton (6-10) at No. 1 Calgary (12-4)

When: 9 p.m. EDT Saturday

2011 playoffs: Calgary won 10-6 at home over Colorado before losing division final 10-8 at home to Washington; Edmonton did not qualify.

Last playoff meeting: 2010; Edmonton won first-rounder in Calgary 11-7.

Season series: Calgary in a 4-0 sweep (Edmonton 8 at Calgary 12, Feb. 18; Calgary 13 at Edmonton 10, March 9; Edmonton 9 at Calgary 16, March 10; Calgary 9 at Edmonton 6, April 21)

Roughnecks: Calgary won seven of its last eight . . . Top goal scorer is Shawn Evans with 32 . . . Diverse offense produced second-best league total of 216 goals . . . Five players with more than 20 goals . . . Mike Poulin's .789 save percentage second-best among playoff starters but he missed last two games with ankle injury and will not have played in a month . . . Allowed league-low 170 goals . . . 5-3 at home this year . . . Haven't forgotten loss to Rush two years ago ruined their chance for championship repeat . . . Only team that had last weekend off.

Head coach Dave Pym: ''We're as prepared as we're going to be. We'll do more in refining that preparation Friday night at practice and during the shoot-around Saturday morning.''

Rush: Edmonton lost last two . . . Zack Greer leads in goals scored with 31 . . . Only two players with more than 20 goals . . . League's weakest offense scored 167 times _ 49 fewer than 'Necks . . . Aaron Bold's .775 save percentage third-best among playoff starters . . . Second-best D in league with 175 goals against . . . 2-6 road record does not bode well . . . Have never won Champion's Cup.

GM-coach Derek Keenan: ''We haven't beaten them since the 2010 playoffs. I'm supposed we're due but there's a price to be paid to do that and we just haven't been able to do it against these guys. It's a one-game shot and we have to seize the opportunity. We're not going to run way from the challenge. We're going to embrace it.''

Prediction: Roughnecks

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.


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