May 1, 2014

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NLL Weekend: Semifinals Open in Toronto and Calgary

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

Minnesota, Vancouver and Philadelphia did not make the playoffs so they are done, and two more teams are about to join them on the outside looking in. Edmonton (16-2) and Rochester (14-4) await the winners of these semifinals:

WEST

COLORADO (8-10) at CALGARY (12-6), 9 p.m. EDT

Colorado won two of three: Jan. 10, Colorado 11 at Calgary 13; Jan. 25, Colorado 14 at Calgary 13; March 8, Calgary 9 at Colorado 10.

''They beat us two out of three and their goaltender is playing really well,'' says Roughnecks coach Curt Malawsky. ''We're going to have our work cut out for us but . . . we're very confident in the group we have.''

The last time they met in the playoffs, on April 27, 2013, they were locked in a 7-7 stalemate at halftime. Calgary won the third quarter 4-0 on its way to a 15-10 victory.

The Roughnecks are hot. Their 14-8 win in Vancouver last Saturday was their sixth in their last seven games.

''We got better as the year went on, which every coach likes to see,'' says Malawsky. ''We're firing on all cylinders.''

The Mammoth are coming off a 13-12 win in Philadelphia. In the process, they rested leading goal scorer John Grant Jr. It was their third win in a row. They are peaking at the right time.

''This weekend is a great opportunity for us,'' defenseman Dan Coates said during the league's weekly conference call Wednesday. ''We're worrying about the process and not the outcome.''

Keeping Dane Dobbie, Curtis Dickson and the other high-scoring 'Necks attackers in check will be a huge challenge.

''We'll try to limit their scoring chances and try to contain them,'' said Coates.

Offense: Colorado scored an average of 11.2 goals a game and Calgary led the league with 13.2/game during the regular season.

Defense: Colorado allowed a league-high average of 12.7 goals against. Calgary's middle-of-the-pack total was 11.9.

Goaltending: Colorado rookie Dillon Ward (.773) and Calgary veteran Mike Poulin (.770) have similar save percentages.

Faceoff battles between Geoff and Bob Snider will be intense _ as usual.

''It's unique thing in sports to directly compete against your brother,'' says Geoff. ''I doubt if he has any plans to take it easy on me and I certainly don't have plans on taking it easy on him.''

There has been no playoff win for the Colorado franchise since its Champion's Cup triumph in 2006. Calgary last won the title in 2009.

EAST

BUFFALO (8-10) at TORONTO (9-9), 7 p.m. EDT

These teams met three times during the regular season and the home team won each game: Jan. 10, Toronto 10 at Buffalo 12; Feb. 1, Toronto 10 at Buffalo 12; April 18, Buffalo 9 at Toronto 13.

''It's a new season,'' says head coach Dan Lovell. ''I don't think that means anything now. The slate is wiped clean.''

''We're similar teams that play well against each other,'' says assistant coach Dan Teat.

The last time they met in the playoffs, on May 5, 2012, in the East semi, Buffalo led 4-0 after one quarter and 6-2 at halftime but Nick Rose shut the Bandits out in the second half as his teammates rallied to win 7-6.

Toronto's 8-6 win in Minnesota last Saturday was its fourth in a row.

''We're playing well right now,'' says Lovell. ''We're pretty happy about being able to grab the home game.''

Buffalo went down to its eighth consecutive defeat last Saturday, 16-14 at home against Rochester.

''Not a whole lot matters now is the game Saturday night,'' says Teat. ''We'll focus on that and not worry about what happened the last eight games.''

''The way we ended the season wasn't ideal but we've got a great locker room,'' says rookie Joel Matthews. ''We believe in the guys in the locker room, in our coaches and the system. We're coming in clean slate and we're going to give it everything we've got.''

Offense: Buffalo scored an average of 10.5 goals a game. Only last-place Minnesota (10.0) was less productive. Toronto scored 12.2/game, tying for second in the league with Edmonton.

Defense: Both were in the top four in the league. Buffalo allowed 11.1 and Toronto 11.8/game.

''We've been getting a more consistent effort,'' Lovell said of the late-season Rock surge.

The Bandits have to avoid the costly penalties that have hurt them in the past.

''We've got to stay poised and focused and really stick to the game plan,'' says Teat.

Goaltending: Brandon Miller has a league-best .830 save percentage since joining the Rock in March. Nick Rose has a .767 save percentage. Lovell won't announce his starter until lineups are submitted just before start time Saturday. Buffalo will go with Anthony Cosmo, who has a stellar .797 save percentage, trailing only Miller and Rochester's Matt Vinc (.798).

''It's been a dream situation for me to come into,'' says Miller. ''It feels as if we have something going right now.''

Buffalo last won the championship in 2008, Toronto in 2011.


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