April 15, 2011

NLL Floor Pass: Colorado Can Clinch

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com

With two regular-season weekends remaining, only one playoff berth remains up for grabs: the final spot in the West. It will go to either Colorado or Edmonton. Many of the seven teams already in the playoffs will jockey for postseason seeding these next two weekends, though some are locked into seeds, such as Calgary (No. 1 in West), Rochester (No. 3 in East) and Boston (No. 4).

Here's a look at this weekend's five games. Check back to laxmagazine.com every week for game-by-game breakdowns and audio from around the NLL. (All game times are local.)

Calgary Roughnecks (11-4) at Colorado Mammoth (4-10), 7 p.m. Friday (TV: Versus, 4:30 p.m. EST Saturday)

Colorado survived playoff extinction last weekend by beating Edmonton in one of its two games. The other was a loss to Calgary Friday night. Now the Roughnecks come to Pepsi Center to face the Mammoth again, and Colorado is still hoping to get in the playoffs. A win in one of the next two weeks will do it.

"We're excited about the opportunity again," Colorado coach Bob Hamley said. "Not many people gave us a chance to be in this position at this point in the season."

Calgary is guaranteed the top seed in the West playoffs, but is still playing the underdog card as it has all season.

"They're fired up and they want to get on with this," coach Dave Pym said of the Roughnecks. "They feel that they've been disrespected all year, and I'm sure that the pundits will be saying at some point in the playoffs, 'It's a new season, a young team, they don't really know what it takes.' But we're going to go out there and try to prove guys wrong."

Toronto Rock (10-5) at Edmonton Rush (4-11), 7 p.m. Saturday

After two-straight losses, Toronto suddenly finds itself behind Buffalo in the running for the top seed in the East. The Rock are guaranteed at least the No. 2 seed, but general manager/assistant coach Terry Sanderson said, "We have to right the ship and get back to doing the things that made us successful. Saturday is a big game for us. We have to play well."

"It's an all-around thing, outside or our steady goaltending," he said, mentioning how Buffalo exploited Toronto's defense in a 11-8 loss Friday, and that the Rock offense hasn't produced to the level it needs, either. "If it was just one thing it would be fine, but there's a few things that we've let slip. ... Most of it comes to focus with the group that we have."

Edmonton has an outside shot at making the playoffs. The Rush needs to win this game and hope Colorado loses out in its final two regular season games.

"You leave the negative train in the station and jump on the positive one. That's what we've got to do," Edmonton general manager/coach Derek Keenan said.

If Calgary wins Friday night that means Edmonton is out of the playoffs. Keenan said his team will be practicing during the Calgary game Friday night, and he hopes the team will give its best effort no matter what.

"You don't want to roll over for other teams in the East that may be fighting for first place, so you gotta bring it," he said.

Boston Blazers (7-8) at Buffalo Bandits (10-4), 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Buffalo can clinch the East title by winning either of the next two weekends, or with a Toronto loss to Edmonton Saturday. Boston is locked into the fourth seed, so that means if Buffalo wins Saturday it would play a rematch with Boston in the first round of the postseason.

"We're going to brainstorm about it Friday night at practice," Buffalo associate general manager/assistant coach Derek Ram said in response to a question about whether Buffalo would not show too much of its game plan against Boston, knowing the Bandits might face them again, "but I think it comes down to you need to go into the game prepared and with the mindset that you're going to win the game."

Boston coach Matt Sawyer said the same.

Philadelphia Wings (5-10) at Minnesota Swarm (6-8), 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Minnesota can still earn the second seed in the West. The Swarm must win their final two games and Washington must lose. Meanwhile Philadelphia was eliminated from the postseason in a 9-7 loss to Boston last week, but like Edmonton coach Derek Keenan, Wings coach John Tucker said his team will be playing to win.

"That's an unspoken rule," Tucker said. "We would never throw out a team that doesn't give maximum effort. That's the least of our issues this year. We battled, for sure."

Rochester Knighthawks (8-6) at Washington Stealth (8-7), 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Washington can clinch the No. 2 seed in the West with a win, or a Minnesota loss. Strangely enough, games that have influenced the Stealth's playoff seed down the stretch have come mainly against East teams. This is Washington's fourth game out of five against the East.

"We would love to be playing at home," Stealth coach Chris Hall said. "We have to do everything we can to play well."

Rochester can't move up or down in the East playoff picture — the Knighthawks are third — but coach Mike Hasen said the team will use this game as a barometer somewhat.

"It's another stepping stone for to see where we match up against the elite teams in this league," Hasen said.


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