April 1, 2011

NLL Week 13 Floor Pass: Previews, Audio

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com

The Edmonton Rush hosts the Colorado Mammoth on Friday and will travel to Denver on Saturday for a crucial home-and-home weekend with the last playoff berth in the NLL's West Division on the line.

The final quarter of the National Lacrosse League regular season is here and some playoff hopes for teams can sink or swim depending on outcomes this weekend. No more so than for Colorado and Edmonton in the West, and Philadelphia and maybe Boston in the East.

Here's a look at this weekend's eight games, including several sound bytes from Wednesday's conference call with coaches. Check back to laxmagazine.com every week for game-by-game breakdowns and more audio from around the NLL. (All game times are local.)

Colorado Mammoth (2-8) at Edmonton Rush (3-9), 7 p.m. Friday; Edmonton Rush (3-9) at Colorado Mammoth (2-8), 7 p.m. Saturday

It's an important home-and-home series, given that both are battling for presumably the last playoff spot in the West. And after this weekend, Colorado and Edmonton will face each other once more.

"It's funny, there's sort of a lot of lacrosse traditionalists that have been screaming for years for three-game playoff series, which is pretty difficult to do in our league. But I think this is what we have right now with Colorado," Edmonton coach/general manager Derek Keenan said.

Both are coming off tight wins, which have been rare for each this season. Colorado won in front of 17,000 home fans in overtime on a John Grant goal. Zack Greer scored with four seconds left in regulation of a tie game to beat Minnesota.

"Our season and Colorado's have kind of mirrored one another," Keenan said. "We've had a lot of close games that we've fallen on the wrong side of."

But they're both feeling good, for now.

Listen to Colorado coach Bom Hamley talk about a big win last week at home, the importance of this week, Joel Dalgarno and the matchup with Edmonton's defense, statistically the worst in the league.

Listen to Edmonton coach/general manager Derek Keenan on last week's last-second win, the importance of this series, Zack Greer and the transition game.

Washington Stealth (6-6) at Toronto Rock (9-3), 7:30 p.m. Friday

A rematch of last year's championship game will be broadcast live in primetime on the main TSN channel in Canada and on tape delay in the U.S. Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. Eastern) on Versus.

Toronto assistant coach and general manager Terry Sanderson downplayed any other storyline other than "this is another game on the schedule." He was very concerned with the way the Rock played last week in a 14-9 loss to Calgary, and just hopes to right the ship Friday, no matter the opponent.

"They basically schooled us," Sanderson said about Calgary. "Any time you get schooled like we did in Calgary, they won all aspects of the game from goaltending, defensively, offensively, coaching ... Hopefully, there are lessons we can all learn from. It was a bit of a wake-up call."

Listen to Washington coach Chris Hall on the matchup with Toronto and Jeff Zywicki's status.

Listen to Toronto coach assistant coach and general manager Terry Sanderson on facing Washington for the first time since last year's title game, coming off a loss to Calgary, what went wrong against the Roughnecks, and the importance, if any, of this game for the standings.

Minnesota Swarm (5-6) at Calgary Roughnecks (9-3) 7:30 p.m. Friday; Calgary Roughnecks (9-3) at Minnesota Swarm (5-6), 7 p.m. Saturday

The Roughnecks have won five in a row, and outscored opponents by an average of five goals in four games in March. They can clinch the West with one win in this series. Minnesota also clinches a playoff berth with one win.

"Calgary is playing better than anyone in the league right now and they're record shows it," O'Neill said. "We've gotta literally take it one shift at a time and see where we're at, and match their intensity right off the bat."

Transition is Calgary's strength, O'Neill said. "It's the name of the game in the NLL and they're the best at it," he said.

Listen to Calgary coach Dave Pym on a chance to wrap up the West and Jeff Shattler's remarkable play.

Listen to Minnesota general manager Marty O'Neill talk about being one win from the playoffs, the matchup with Calgary, the offense, Andrew Suitor, and roster decisions because of playing back-to-back games in consecutive weekends.

Toronto Rock (9-3) at Philadelphia Wings (4-8), 7 p.m. Saturday

Toronto has won twice against Philadelphia this season, and will again turn its attention to the Wings after a Friday night game against Washington. Philadelphia is 1.5 games behind Boston for the East's final playoff spot, and is looking to string a few wins together. This would be a huge one.

"While time is getting short, we're still in a position where we control our destiny," Philadelphia coach John Tucker said. "We know that Toronto is a tough out, but if we continue to get better I think we can be a very dangerous team if we are able to get in the playoffs. This is a huge step."

Listen to Toronto assistant coach/general manager Terry Sanderson on facing Philadelphia for a third time and playing back-to-back games this weekend.

Listen to Philadelphia coach John Tucker on the playoff hunt, the Wings' defensive identity and general style of play with many Americans on the roster.

Rochester Knighthawks (6-5) at Boston Blazers (6-7), 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Rochester will clinch a playoff berth with a win. It's the third meeting of these teams this season, each winning once. But Boston is reeling now, having lost four in a row and suddenly their playoff hopes in question.

"We have no choice but to rebound," Sawyer said. "We need to realize the urgency of the situation."

This season, Boston has won two in a row, lost three straight, and won four consecutive before the current losing streak. Sawyer said offensive inconsistency has hurt them and they're still trying to find chemistry. The big guns haven't yet clicked for the Blazers.

"Our 5-on-5 game needs to get better," he said. "We'd be in a real world of hurt if our power play wasn't as strong."

Listen to Rochester coach Mike Hasen on the matchup, Cody Vittarelli and the power play.

Listen to Boston coach Matt Sawyer on a pair of 9-8 losses last weekend, trying to end a four-game losing streak, the tilt with Rochester and offensive inconsistency.

Washington Stealth (6-6) at Buffalo Bandits (8-3), 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Washington and Buffalo have clinched playoff spots, so they'll play the rest of the season for postseason seeding.

Buffalo is a half game back of Toronto in the East has won four straight. Washington is in second in the West, three games back of Calgary. The Stealth has won three of its last four, including a 9-8 win over Boston last weekend.

This is the second game of a road trip for Washington in which the Stealth faces the top two teams in the East.

"Traveling across the country is a factor. I think we're catching a bit of a break having them play on Friday night and seeing them Saturday because we will be ready," Buffalo assistant coach/associate general manager Derek Ram said.

Listen to Washington coach Chris Hall on the two-game road trip and the Stealth's inconsistency this season.

Listen to Buffalo assistant coach/assistant general manager Derek Ram on facing a West team, faceoff success and the Bandits defense.

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