April 17, 2014

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NLL Weekend: Colorado Aims at Last Spot

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

The third and final playoff berth in the NLL West hangs in the balance and second place in the NLL East remains up for grabs in the second-last weekend of the 18-game regular season. The matchups (all times EDT):

FRIDAY

BUFFALO (8-7) at TORONTO (7-9), 7 p.m.

This will be the third and final regular-season meeting. Buffalo won the previous two by identical 12-10 scores, both at home. If Buffalo wins, it locks up second place in the NLL East. If Toronto wins, it retains hope of sneaking into second place. For that to happen, the Rock would have to win their schedule-closing game in Minnesota on April 26 and have the Bandits drop both games of a home-and-home set with Rochester.

Regardless, this will be a preview of the first-round playoff meeting.

''Both teams no each other so well,'' Bandits GM Steve Dietrich said during the league's weekly conference call Wednesday. ''We both know we're playing each other in the playoffs so it comes down to who gets to host.''

Buffalo, coming off a 10-9 loss in Minnesota, has lost five in a row since its last win back on March 15.

''It's been ugly the last little while, no doubt about that,'' Dietrich said.

''The guys are still positive,'' said transition player Mitch Wilde. ''The guys still believe in themselves.''

Toronto clinched a playoff berth with a 10-9 home win over Philadelphia last Saturday.

''We played a great game in many areas,'' said Rock head coach John Lovell.

''It was great to get our ticket punched and put that to rest,'' said captain Colin Doyle. ''Moving forward, (Buffalo) is a team we haven't beaten yet . . . and it's important for us to know we can beat them. A win this week does a lot of good things for us.''

Buffalo rested captain John Tavares last weekend but ''he'll be ready to go on Friday night,'' said Dietrich.

Doyle and his teammates coped well last Saturday in their first game without league scoring leader Garrett Billings, who tore his ACL in his right knee the previous weekend. They'll miss him but have to move on.

''If we're going to make any noise down the stretch, we're going to have to do it without him,'' said Doyle. ''We really believe we can do this without him.''

SATURDAY

BUFFALO at ROCHESTER (12-4), 7:30 p.m.

These teams split two earlier games, with Buffalo winning 11-10 at home on Jan. 25 and Rochester winning 9-6 at home Feb. 8. Rochester, 10-7 winner at home over Vancouver last Saturday, has won three in a row and seven of its last eight to clinch first place in the NLL East. Coach Mike Hasen will make sure complacency does not set in.

''Buffalo coming into our rink is motivation enough,'' says Hasen. ''We need to tighten down a few things and everybody in our dressing room knows that.''

''It's a huge rivalry game for us,'' said Rochester D-man Scott Self. ''It's our last home game of the season and we definitely want to put on a show for our fans. We'll be ready to play playoff-style lacrosse.''

If the Bandits win in Toronto to clinch second place this game will have no impact on anything. If the Bandits lose in Toronto, they'll need to win this one or their schedule-closing home game against Rochester the following weekend to assure themselves of second place and home floor for the division semifinal.

A flu is going through the roster, said Dietrich, so he's unsure what the lineup will look like this weekend.

''We had a bunch of guys sick (Tuesday night) and who had to leave practise early,'' said Dietrich.

The Knighthawks' Cody Jamieson is six points shy of taking over the league scoring lead and you know his teammates want to see that happen.

CALGARY (10-6) at EDMONTON (15-1), 9 p.m.

Edmonton has already beaten Calgary three times: 15-8 on Jan. 17, 15-7 on March 14 and 15-11 last Saturday. The Rush will want to make it four in a row to retain a psychological advantage heading into the playoffs, while the Roughnecks will gain a mental boost if they can end the domination. So, this is an important game for both teams even though the result will not alter the standings. They're locked in 1-2 in the NLL West.

Edmonton GM-coach Derek Keenan was impressed with how his players bounced back to win in Calgary after losing its first of the year in Denver the previous night, and he'll keep pressing them to improve.

''There's a number of areas we have to be better,'' says Keenan.

''We're looking to finish the season strong,'' said goaltender Aaron Bold.

Calgary coach Curt Malawsky took solace in the fact the Roughnecks came close to beating Edmonton last weekend.

''We got better from the first two games we played them,'' said Malawsky.

Edmonton-Calgary was a one-sided rivalry for years _ in Calgary's favor.

''It's always been a battle over the years and now the shoe is on the other foot,'' said Malawsky. ''We're representing southern Alberta and we want to go up there and show we can grab a couple of points.''

''We've both locked up playoff positions but I don't think the intensity is going to drop Saturday,'' said Bold.

''We had a great crowd in Calgary last week and I hope Edmonton can follow up on that,'' said Roughnecks faceoff specialist Geoff Snider.

COLORADO (6-10) at MINNESOTA (4-12), 8 p.m.

Colorado clinches a playoff spot with a win. Minnesota can't qualify but the Swarm beat Buffalo 10-9 at home last weekend and is hot to trot to get another W for its faithful fans.

''There is some light at the end of the tunnel and it's a pretty big light,'' says coach Joe Sullivan. ''We've worked very, very hard and our record is not indicative of that. Our play of late definitely is . . . we're going to prepare as hard and as strong as we have all year. Colorado as a good team and deserves to be in the playoffs but hopefully we can give them a run for their money this weekend.''

''We want to give our fans a good closing to the season,'' said forward Kiel Matisz.

This is the second of two. The Mammoth beat the Swarm 14-12 in Denver on Feb. 1.

''That was very early in the year and we had a lot of new people to try and mesh in (to the lineup),'' said Sullivan. ''We're starting to play with confidence . . . that's all we can dwell on now _ where we're going to and not where we've been.''

If Colorado loses, it can still finish third in the NL West by winning its schedule closer April 26 at Philadelphia, or if last-place Vancouver loses any of its three remaining games. But John Grant Jr. and Co. don't want to back in. They want to win their way in. Their confidence rose when they handed Edmonton its first loss, 10-8, last Friday.

''It was fan appreciation night so it was a good time to put it together,'' said interim coach Dan Stroup. ''The guys know they can play with any team in the league when they play like that.''

Now they've got their destiny in their own hands.

''That's what we all play for _ to get to the playoffs,'' said Stroup. ''We just have to go out and play the same type of game as last week, win one, and go from there.''

Colorado's Dillon Ward is just a rookie but has been playing like a veteran goaltender..

''We're happy that he's found his game right near the end of the season when we need it,'' said Stroup. ''The defense in front of him has picked up also.''

Mammoth captain John Grant Jr.'s next goal will be his 600th.

PHILADELPHIA (5-11) at VANCOUVER (4-11), 10 p.m.

Live feed available at Universalsports.com

Philadelphia's 10-9 loss in Toronto last Saturday eliminated it from playoff contention so pride is the only thing the Wings will be playing for.

''We'll try to put our best foot forward,'' said assistant coach Jim Milligan. ''We have a good locker room and the guys will want to finish off on a positive note.''

The only way Vancouver can make it into the post-season is if it wins this one as well as its last two, and Colorado blows its last two. Chances are not just slim, they are 1 in 100. They have to play in Edmonton after this one then face Calgary at home in their closer.

''We can't do anything more than just try to win a game,'' says Stealth coach Chris Hall.

Defenseman Matt Beers hasn't lost hope.

''We still have a shot,'' he said. ''We'll prepare for Philly and hope for the best.''

Vancouver lost 15-9 at Philadelphia on Feb. 1. That's ancient history now. What is much more relevant is that No. 1 Stealth goalie Tyler Richards was unable to play when his team lost 10-7 in Rochester last Saturday, and his availability this weekend is up in the air.

''He's still nursing an injury,'' Hall said. ''He's a possibility but we won't really know until Friday at practise to see if he can go.'


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