July 24, 2013

Washburn: Breaking Down the MLL Playoff Chase

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

The Cannons have lost just one game under new coach John Tucker and are in the best position to make the MLL playoffs of the three teams in the running to grab the fourth postseason berth, writes Evan Washburn.
© John Strohsacker

With three weeks remaining in the regular season the playoff picture has become fairly clear. Remember, only the top four teams make it to Championship Weekend in Major League Lacrosse.

The league's top team, undefeated Denver, has already secured a spot and will likely lock up the number one overall seed this weekend. Hamilton is in a great position with eight wins and can count on its invitation with a win this weekend over Boston or a Charlotte loss. The defending champion Bayhawks are securely in third place and would require an epic fail in the final weeks to miss the postseason.

The Ohio Machine have been eliminated from playoff contention at 1-10 and, with a loss this weekend or a win by Boston or Charlotte, the New York Lizards will join them.

So that leaves Boston, Charlotte and Rochester all fighting for the fourth and final spot in Championship Weekend. Since this is the most intriguing storyline in the MLL, I have had decided to break down how I see each team's chances.

Boston Cannons (5-6)

Remaining schedule: at Hamilton, vs. Ohio, vs. Rochester

The Cannons resurgence since starting 1-5 is one of the best stories of the 2013 season. They finally lost a game under head coach John Tucker last Thursday night in Annapolis. I walked away from the game even more convinced that this team has all the capabilities to make the playoffs and even be a championship contender. This weekend's game in Hamilton will be the most important in their journey towards Philadelphia. It is always a tough trip north of the border and Hamilton has the confidence of having dismantled the Cannons 15-8 in week two of the season.

Boston has the best chance grab control of fourth place thanks to the tiebreaker over Charlotte and the talent level of a championship team.

Charlotte Hounds (5-6)

Remaining Schedule: at Ohio, vs. Hamilton, vs. Chesapeake

What Charlotte has done this season is impressive. With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Hounds have been in every game they have played. Their six losses have come by an average of only three goals. This team has fun playing with one another and if they can keep the pieces together, I think they are on the precipice of something special.

But I will stand by what I have said throughout the season, I think this group is still a year away.

They have a great opportunity to make Championship Weekend, but even if they do find themselves at PPL Park on the Aug. 24 I don't think this team has the mental make up to walk away champions. Too many times this season I have seen the Hounds take their foot off the pedal late in games. They dominated New York through two quarters last week, and then let a team with little to play for back in the game being outscored 8-2 in the second half.

Charlotte's road ahead is challenging but not impossible. The hope for Hounds fans is that Hamilton has locked up the two seed by the time they meet on Aug. 3. Going 3-0 in the final three weeks is a must for Charlotte.

Rochester Rattlers (4-7)

Remaining Schedule: at New York, at Chesapeake, at Boston

The 2013 Rattlers have all the pieces necessary to be a playoff team, but lack the consistent effort and attention to detail that every championship team has. Rochester is coming off arguably their best performance of the season in a 12-9 loss to undefeated Denver.

The Rattlers held the league's best offense to their lowest output of the year and had a great opportunity to tie the game with a little over two minutes remaining, but they just ran out of gas and that's how I see their playoff hopes. While this group may have finally found their rhythm, it is a little too late thanks to early season disappointments. Most notably dropping games to Charlotte 15-8 in week two and a head scratcher in week seven to Ohio 13-11.

The Rattlers have some of the league's top young stars like Ned Crotty, John Galloway, Mike Manley, Jordan MacIntosh and Joel White. All will most likely have to wait another year to make their playoff debut.

Evan Washburn, the CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network commentator and host of CBS Sports Network's "Inside the MLL," provides weekly MLL power rankings throughout the season for LaxMagazine.comFollow him on Twitter @EvanWashburn.

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