April 25, 2013

NLL Playoffs Begin in Toronto, Rochester, Calgary, Everett

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Watch the goaltending matchup in Rochester-Philadelphia. The Knighthawks' Matt Vinc leads all NLL goalies with a .803 save percentage while the Wings' Brandon Miller is at .771 with some standout performances in big games.
© Philadelphia Wings

It is Champion's Cup time in the NLL. Buffalo didn't make it and four more teams will fall by the wayside this weekend. Rochester is the defending champion. There hasn't been a repeat Champion's Cup winner since Toronto in 2003. The first-round matchups:


PHILADELPHIA (7-9) AT ROCHESTER (8-8), 5 p.m. ET Saturday (CBS Sports Network, YouTube.com/TLN outside North America)

The teams split their first two meetings this year. Forget them. The one that matters is the third. Rochester won decisively, 14-7, at home just three weeks ago. Regardless, Wings GM Johnny Mouradian looks forward to the new challenge.

''We feel that we match up well with Rochester,'' Mouradian said during the league's weekly conference call Wednesday. ''We like playing in their barn, for sure, and playing on TV is a great honor.''

Rochester had a strong second half. Its 10-9 win in Buffalo last Saturday was its fourth win in its last six games.

''Everybody is old enough and veteran enough to realize what we had to do,'' said Knighthawks forward Cody Jamieson.

Philadelphia is coming off a 17-13 loss at Washington and has lost six of its last eight.

Add it all up and the 2012 champs have to be favored to advance, especially given their above-.500 clip of late.

''We'll ride that momentum as long as we can,'' said head coach Mike Hasen.

Rochester is 3-5 at home and Philadelphia is 3-5 on the road this year so the venue shouldn't be a factor, although Rochester has had the upper hand against Philadelphia in recent years.

''It's a best-of-one series that we have to come out and win,'' said Wings defenseman Brett Manney.

Goaltending: Matt Vinc leads all NLL goalies with a .803 save percentage while the Wings' Brandon Miller is at .771 with some standout performances in big games.

''They have the least goals against in the NLL and there's no doubt Matt is a big part of that,'' said Mouradian. ''We have to focus on what we do well. We need to get the right opportunities at the right time and make sure when we have those opportunities we take advantage and score.''

MINNESOTA (7-9) AT TORONTO (10-6), 3 p.m. ET Sunday (TSN2 in Canada, Fox Sports North Plus in Minneapolis-St. Paul region, YouTube.com/TLN elsewhere)

Red flags should be up in Toronto.

Forget that the Rock finished first overall and the Swarm eked into the playoffs because the Rock had a hard time with the speedy Swarm in two regular-season meetings. They trailed at halftime before rallying to a 13-12 home win back on Jan. 25, and they lost 13-12 on a Tyler Hass OT goal in St. Paul on Feb. 8.

''They've got big, strong, talented athletes,'' said Rock captain Colin Doyle. ''They might not have a ton of experience but they'll make up for that with energy and adrenalin.''

Respect goes both ways.

''They're an explosive team and they've got a really sound defense,'' said Minnesota coach Joe Sullivan.

Toronto had a hot 6-2 start to its season and tailed off to 4-4 in the second half. Minnesota also had a 4-4 second half, which ended with a 16-14 home loss to Colorado.

One player, in particular, has been hot as a firecracker for the Swarm.

''Callum Crawford has been playing out of his mind,'' said teammate Ryan Benesch.

The venue might be a factor. Toronto is 5-3 at Air Canada Centre, while Minnesota is 2-6 on the road this year, which doesn't worry Sullivan.

''We're not making those simple mistakes that cost us three one-goal games at the start of the year,'' he said.

The Rock go into this one in their usual cool, calm and collected manner.

''It's kind of status quo for us,'' Doyle said. ''We've got so many veterans that nothing really exciting needs to be said. I suspect this will be another one of those one-goal games.''

Toronto goalie Nick Rose has a .791 save percentage that is third best among first-stringers.

''Nick is very excited about coming out with a good effort and seeing where this thing takes us,'' said Rock GM Terry Sanderson.

Sullivan wouldn't say whether he'd start Tyler Carlson (.771) or Evan Kirk (.735).

''Tyler is a little down on himself from the last game,'' he said. ''I have to see where his state of mind is and how he's performing (before making a decision).''


COLORADO (7-9) AT CALGARY (9-7), 9 p.m. ET SATURDAY (YouTube.com/TLN)

Calgary won't be "overly-focused on John Grant because there are a lot of other players who could take advantage of that,'' said Roughnecks defenseman Greg Harnett.
© Larry Palumbo

Throw out a lopsided Calgary win in Denver and what you're left with in analyzing the season series is two OT thrillers in Calgary: 13-12 for Colorado on a Sean Pollock goal back on Jan. 19 and 12-11 for Calgary on a Curtis Dickson goal on March 23. It's anybody's game come Saturday.

''They won the division and we have to go there,'' said Colorado coach Bob Hamley. ''We'll have to be ready.''

''It's really going to come down to who wants it more,'' said Calgary defenseman Greg Harnett.

Colorado is 4-4 on the road and Calgary is 3-5 at home.

Both teams played well down the stretch. Colorado won five of its last seven with Tye Belanger emerging as its No. 1 goalie.

Calgary won four of its last six including that OT nail biter in Edmonton last Saturday that earned the 'Necks first place in the West. Calgary players showed more discipline in that one.

''If you're not disciplined in the playoffs, you're going to end up on the short end of the stick,'' said Calgary coach Curt Malawsky.

Calgary has been hit by late-season injuries to Dane Dobbie (leg) and Scott Ranger (chest).

''We're optimistic,'' Malawsky said of their status, but adding it won't be until Saturday before a decision is made to put them in the lineup or to leave them out.

John Grant Jr. will be a big Colorado scoring threat but the 'Necks won't zero in on him.

''We're not going to get overly-focused on John Grant because there are a lot of other players who could take advantage of that,'' said Harnett.

Goaltending: Belanger a proficient .776, Calgary's Mike Poulin an inviting .742.

EDMONTON (9-7) AT WASHINGTON (9-7), 7:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network, YouTube.com/TLN outside North America)

Edmonton took the season series 2-1: the Rush won 18-10 at Washington on Jan. 20, Washington won 12-10 in Edmonton on Jan. 25, and the Rush won 15-10 at home on Feb. 15.

''They played really well down the stretch,'' Rush GM-coach Derek Keenan said of the Stealth. ''They're a handful on offense and they have a big physical defense. We'll have to be at our best.''

Washington is 4-3 at home and was 5-3 in the second half.

''You want to be trying to ride a bit of a high going into the playoffs,'' said Stealth coach Chris Hall, who was encouraged by his club's decisive home win over Philadelphia last weekend. ''We're healthy and in good shape. But, like Derek said, this is anyone's to grab — any one of the eight teams. The matchups are pretty even right down the line.''

Stealth forward Rhys Duch, who has a league-high 45 goals, said lack of consistent 60-minute performances has been a problem.

''Playoffs are do or die so there's no excuses anymore,'' Duch said. ''We haven't seen Edmonton since February . . . and there's a bad taste in our mouths since that last game.''

Edmonton was 6-2 in its last eight. Edmonton is 7-1 on the road including its lopsided win in Everett.

Goaltending: Edmonton's Aaron Bold, .744, has been spotty; Washington's Tyler Richards is No. 2 in the league with a .795 save percentage.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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