August 1, 2013

Washburn: Taking Stock in the Playoff Race

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.comTwitter

The Bayhawks are in good shape for the third seed at 7-5, but Boston (5-7) needs to get the job done in its final two games to pass Charlotte (6-6) and advance to Championship Weekend.
©John Strohsacker 

The magic number in Major League Lacrosse is two. There are two weeks remaining in the regular season and only two spots left in the postseason field. Denver has locked up the number one overall seed, while Hamilton has clinched a berth and can secure the two seed with a win over Charlotte this weekend.

Now here is where it gets interesting.

Chesapeake, Charlotte, Rochester and Boston are all fighting for the final two invitations to Championship Weekend. Lets take a closer look at the playoff picture team by team, in order of where I see things shaking out.

Chesapeake Bayhawks (7-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. Rochester, vs. Charlotte

After winning three straight and finally looking like they had regained the form that lead them to last year's championship, the Bayhawks took a step back last week with a two-goal loss to Denver. After taking taking a 5-1 lead early in the 2nd quarter and holding the Outlaws attack of Brendan Mundorf, Chris Bocklet and Eric Law to zero points, Chesapeake faltered down the stretch, outscored 13-8 in the final three quarters.

The Bayhawks are still in good shape. A win over Rochester Saturday night and the defending champions are in the postseason. They can also secure a berth with a loss and some help from other teams.

I don't doubt this team will be at PPL Park at the end of the month, competing for their third championship in four years. Just the same, I don't see them being the contender many felt they would be with so much of last year's team returning. Despite all that star power, this team doesn't play enough consistent team offense. There has not been enough ball movement or assisted goals this season.

I still have this team making a return to the championship game, but do not think they have the make up and consistency to walk away with another Steinfeld Cup.

Boston Cannons (5-7)

Remaining schedule: vs. Ohio, vs. Rochester

The Cannons have lost two straight and are currently in 6th place. They cannot clinch a spot in the postseason in week 13 and can be eliminated from contention with a loss to Ohio and a Charlotte win, but I still think the Cannons have the best shot at grabbing the fourth seed and returning to Championship Weekend.

The biggest reason is their remaining schedule and the depth of talent on this team. The Rattlers and Machine have combined for a 6-18 record and neither has beaten a team with a winning record this season. The Cannons also get the benefit of closing out the season at home - a place where they have not lost since May 11th.

Against Hamilton last week, a slow start and a poor shooting performance was too much to overcome against the league's second best team. The Cannons two-game skid has given pause to one of the best stories this season. Boston's turnaround since a 1-5 start has the potential to be a lasting memory from what has been a wild year, but only if they can complete the task and lock up the fourth seed.

Charlotte Hounds (6-6)

Remaining Schedule: vs. Hamilton, @ Chesapeake

In only their second season in Major League Lacrosse, the Hounds find themselves in a great position, with control of their postseason destiny. If Charlotte wins their remaining games they will make their Championship Weekend debut. Taking a step back from my role as an analyst, I think it would be great for the game to see a team from Charlotte in the sport's marquee event.

The Hounds have the confidence of having beaten the Bayhawks earlier this season and dropping a game to Hamilton in overtime without Matt Danowski and Ryan Young. The Nationals go into Saturday's game with little to play for, with the number two seed all but a formality. Those are the positives heading into the final two weeks, but I still have this team on the outside looking in after the dust settles.

Chesapeake and Hamilton have arguably the most talented and experienced rosters in the league, while Charlotte will most likely dress seven rookies in both games. This factor alone makes it hard for me to see the Hounds winning two straight. With their remaining schedule, they may need Boston to stumble.

Rochester Rattlers (5-7)

Remaining Schedule: @ Chesapeake, @ Boston

The Rattlers are still alive, but barely. Despite win last weekend in New York, the lights are nearly out on a playoff dream. Going into their matchup with the Bayhawks Saturday, the Rattlers are in 5th place and will be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss and a Charlotte win. Interestingly, Rochester could also be removed from the playoff conversation win a win Saturday night. That happens if the Rattlers beat the Bayhawks by less than 3 goals and the Hounds win and Cannons lose.

Having spent a lot of time the past few weeks breaking down the Rattlers season in preparation for their games on CBS Sports Network, I am actually impressed it went this well. This team has dealt with more this summer than any other organization, due to the fact that they are most likely on the move in 2014. The Rattlers have played three games at neutral sites and four games on Sunday afternoon, which is not the norm for an MLL franchise and those are just the issues on the surface. I am confident in saying that this team probably had less practice time than any other team in the league. These are all the variables that have contributed to a widely inconsistent season.

The playoff hopes will disappear either this week or next, but if this team sticks together through an offseason of question, I see good things ahead in 2014.

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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