April 28, 2011

Neil Stevens' NLL Playoff Predictions

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Boston's offense runs through Dan Dawson, who dished an NLL-best 59 assists during the regular season.

Aha, we've fallen upon a secret formula to determine who will win the 2011 NLL championship!

Start with this: six different teams have won the title in the last six years and, if the trend continues, it will be Boston or Minnesota going all the way this spring.

Now take this into consideration: defense will be a determining factor, and Boston allowed the fewest goals against during the regular season.

Tada, the Blazers go all the way!

There is, of course, no foolproof method of figuring out who'll hoist the Champion's Cup. It will be decided on a green carpet and not on paper and, as of today, there are eight capable teams in the running.

It all begins to play out with first-round games Saturday and Sunday. Here are the matchups.

East Division

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EDT
Regular season: Buffalo lost last two to finish 10-6; Boston won last two to finish 8-8.
Season series: Buffalo had 2-1 edge (March 6 -- Buffalo 9 at Boston 8; March 12 - Boston 10 at Buffalo 12; April 16 -- Boston 16 at Buffalo 9)
2010 playoffs: Boston lost 12-11 at Orlando in first round; Buffalo lost 13-11 at Toronto in first round.
Last playoff meeting: 2009, first round, Boston 8 at Buffalo 11
Home floor factor: A wash, with Buffalo 4-4 at HSBC this year and Boston 4-4 on the road.
Ready to make an impact: Mark Steenhuis for Bandits and Casey Powell for Blazers.
Notes: Bandits offense sputtered in home losses to Boston and Rochester in last two games and now they're up against the NLL's No. 1 defense . . . Buffalo goalie Mike Thompson had superior save percentage, .785, to Boston goalie Anthony Cosmo, .767, on the season but was ordinary in his last two starts . . . Boston's offense produced 166 goals to Buffalo's 169, so not much of a difference there . . . Boston allowed league-low 155 goals, while Buffalo defense was just as good in allowing 159 . . . Much of Blazers attack will go through captain Dan Dawson, who had a league-high 59 assists . . . Powell's 34 goals topped Boston goal scoring, and John Tavares potted a team-high 32 for Buffalo during the regular season . . . Keep an eye on Kevin Buchanan, whose five-goal effort was a big reason why the Blazers thumped the Bandits on April 16 . . . Buffalo needs production from secondary scorers Roger Vyse and Brett Bucktooth . . . Defender Chris Corbeil led Buffalo in loose balls with 121, while Kyle Rubisch led Boston with 143 . . . Buffalo averages 17,000 fans a game, so HSBC should again be packed . . . Ryan Hotaling's proficiency on faceoffs is superior to anybody Bandits send to take draws . . . The team with the momentum: Boston.
Blazers bite: ''We've been a streaky team all year so we're hoping we're going into a hot streak.'' -- forward Josh Sanderson.
Bandits wary: ''They know they can beat us in Buffalo, which is a negative for us.'' -- Bandits coach Darris Kilgour.
Prediction: Boston

When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. EDT
Regular season: Rochester won last three to finish 10-6; Toronto lost last three for identical 10-6 record.
Season series: Toronto swept 3-0 (Jan. 15 -- Toronto 12 at Rochester 9; Feb. 18 -- Rochester 5 at Toronto 10; Feb. 19 -- Toronto 13 at Rochester 6)
2010 playoffs: Toronto eliminated Buffalo and Orlando before losing final 15-11 to Stealth at Everett, Washington; Rochester did not qualify.
Last playoff meeting: 2007, first round, Toronto 6 at Rochester 10.
Home floor factor: Toronto was 7-1 at home during regular season, but Rochester was 6-2 on the road so won't be intimidated. Historically, Knighthawks have seldom won in Toronto.
Ready to make an impact: Rock captain Colin Doyle, the 'Hawks Mike Accursi.
Notes: Rock defense has deteriorated since Drew Petkoff was lost to a knee injury. It gave up 41 goals in three straight losses to end regular season, and is now up against an offense that is red hot . . . A magnificent goaltending duel is possible: Rochester's Matt Vinc led the NLL with .794 save percentage, while Toronto's Bob Watson was second at .788 . . . Toronto's offense produced 187 goals (third, tied with Minnesota, while Rochester's attack generated 176 (fifth) . . . Rochester's defense was vastly improved by season's end, thanks in large part to Vinc's heroics, and allowed 159 goals (second, tied with Buffalo) while Toronto's slipped with Petkoff out to 168 (fourth in league) . . . Stephan Leblanc leads Toronto offense with 33 goals, and Garrett Billings has scored 31 . . . Rookie Cody Jamieson had a team-best 28 goals for Rochester . . . Loose ball leaders: Pat McCready had 101 pickups for Rochester and Cam Woods had 95 for Toronto . . . Toronto is 10-2 all-time at home in postseason . . . The team with the momentum: Rochester.
Rock reasoning: ''Everybody has their back against the wall at this time of year, and we feel our team plays well when we're in that situation. We have been collectively disappointed in our performance over the last five games, but the guys are upbeat and ready to get at it.'' -- Rock coach Troy Cordingley.
'Hawks perspective: ''They've definitely had our number, but we're a different team than the last time we faced them.'' -- captain Shawn Williams.
Prediction: Rochester

West Division

Calgary is 6-2 at home and Colorado is 2-6 on the road, making the Roughnecks a heavy favorite in Saturday's West Division semifinal.

When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. EDT
Regular season: Colorado 5-11 and Calgary 11-5 after each lost regular season finale.
Season series: Colorado had 2-1 edge (Jan. 15 -- Colorado 8 at Calgary 8; April 8 -- Colorado 13 at Calgary 14; April 15 -- Calgary 7 at Colorado 11)
2010 playoffs: Calgary was upset at home 11-7 by Edmonton in first round; Colorado did not qualify.
Last playoff meeting: 2009, first round -- Colorado 8 at Calgary 15.
Home floor factor: Calgary 6-2 at home and Colorado 2-6 on road, making Roughnecks heavy favorite.
Ready to make an impact: Calgary's Daryl Veltman and Colorado's Dan Carey.
Notes: Two of Mammoth's five wins were against Calgary, so this is a team that John Grant and co. know they can compete with . . . Colorado goalie Chris Levis finished season with fourth-best save percentage of .784, while Calgary's Mike Poulin was ninth with .765 . . . Calgary has big offensive edge after scoring 198 goals (second in NLL) compared to 151 for Colorado (ninth in league) . . . Colorado has superior defense, having allowed 172 (fifth in NLL) compared to Calgary's 181 (eighth in league) . . . Dane Dobbie's 34 goals and 33 from rookie Curtis Dickson highlighted Roughnecks offense, while Grant came on strong in the last month to finish with 36 for Mammoth . . . Calgary transition star Jeff Shattler has had an MVP-type season . . . Ilija Gajic's 101 loose balls the most for Mammoth . . . Geoff Snider led league in faceoff wins and topped 'Necks in loose balls with 171 . . . . Mammoth much improved since Gavin Prout reacquired at trading deadline . . . The team with the momentum: Colorado.
Roughnecks rant: ''Chris Levis has given them an opportunity to win any game. He seems to rise to the occasion every time he plays us, perhaps with the added motivation of having played for us at one time.'' -- Coach Dave Pym.
Mood of the Mammoth: ''We accomplished one of our goals, to make the playoffs, and the guys are excited about getting this opportunity.'' -- Coach Bob Hamley.
Prediction: Calgary

When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. EDT
Regular season: Both 8-8 after Minnesota won last two and Washington lost schedule closer
Season series: Minnesota had 2-1 edge (Jan. 14 -- Minnesota 16 at Washington 8; Jan. 29 -- Washington 10 at Minnesota 11 OT; April 9, Minnesota 15 at Washington 16 OT)
2010 playoffs: Minnesota 10 at Washington 14, first round
Home floor factor: A wash, as Minnesota is 5-3 at home and Washington 5-3 on road
Ready to make an impact: Jeff Zywicki for Washington, Aaron Wilson for Minnesota
Notes: This series features the top three NLL scorers in the Swarm's Ryan Benesch (46g, 49a) and the Stealth's Lewis Ratcliff (41g, 52a) and Rhys Duch (42g, 48a) . . . Benesch managed only one goal in last spring's playoff loss to the Stealth and his team will need more from him this time . . . Washington goalie Tyler Richards had fifth-best save percentage of .782, while Minnesota's Nick Patterson had a seventh-best .768 . . . Minnesota allowed 180 goals (seventh in NLL) and Washington let in 198 (ninth) . . . Washington is the NLL's highest-scoring team with 203 goals, and Minnesota tied for third with Toronto with 187 each . . . Bob Snider of the Stealth was second in the league in faceoff wins, and can give his team an edge in possession time . . . Paul Rabil's 153 loose ball pickups were most with Washington, while rookie Andrew Suitor led Minnesota with 108 . . . The team with the momentum: Minnesota.
Andy's ante: ''We are excited to bring a home playoff game to our fans and are shooting for the first playoff win in the franchise's seen-year history. It would be incredibly special to capture the first win here at home for our fans.'' -- Andy Arlotta, Swarm co-owner and vice-president.
Stealth scoop: ''Clearly, if you're facing a team that's got the scoring champion in their midst, I wouldn't be doing a very good job if I wasn't spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to stop that guy.'' -- Coach Chris Hall on stopping Benesch.
Prediction: Minnesota

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