I hope you all have learned something from this NLL season – the National Lacrosse League is wide open. No team just cleans house all season long, even the best fall often. If you put those tidbits of information together along with what you learned last season from Edmonton – any team in the playoffs has a shot to win the Cup. If you learned how to put that information to use, well, you could be doing my job.
The regular season has come to an end and now 8 teams will fight it out to see who will get to hoist the Champions Cup. I’ll breakdown each playoff match up right until the final buzzer sounds. Finally, I have to tip my cap to Banditland. The Bandits played hard all season and the fans were there through thick and thin, even breaking records along the way. This past weekend the Bandits were officially eliminated from the playoff contention, but I have to give them credit – they went down swinging. There’s always next season.
The following is a list taken from NLL.com of the overall playoff ranking:
1) Toronto Rock (10-6)
2) Calgary Roughnecks (9-7)
3) Washington Stealth (9-7)
4) Edmonton Rush (9-7)
5) Rochester Knighthawks (8-8)
6) Philadelphia Wings (7-9)
7) Colorado Mammoth (7-9)
8) Minnesota Swarm (7-9)
West Division Semifinals:
- #4 Colorado Mammoth @ #1 Calgary Roughnecks
At first glance, you might notice that these two teams’ records differ by only two games. However, that isn’t the whole story. Calgary has been fairly dominant throughout the season, while Colorado has had a late surge and stole a few games down the stretch. The Roughnecks have a few more advantages over the Mammoth in this match up. First off, they have the leagues overall points and assist leader by a guy named Shawn Evans. 112 regular season points to go along with 80 assists. Evans isn’t the only weapon for the Riggers, they also have a few wily vets on the team in the likes of: Jeff Shattler, Dane Dobbie, and Curtis Dickson. You can’t forget about Geoff Snider who won over 300 face offs this season, and vacuumed up 235 loose balls. Snider is a key asset in the playoffs, he wins nearly 75% of the draws he takes. That’s backyard make it, take it lacrosse right there, and if you are the Mammoth, you don’t want that, trust me.
Colorado, not to be outdone, have a few weapons of their own. A guy by the name of John Grant Jr. I don’t know, maybe you’ve heard of him. He finished 2nd in the league in goals scored, and 5th in overall points. As always, Junior is a deadly offense weapon who is going to get his points one way or another. Mammoth also have a good mix of vets and young-guns on offense including: Adam Jones, Gavin Prout, Sean Polluck, and Casey Powell. Forecast calls for a lot of shots by both teams, expect it to be high-scoring. The Mammoth are likely going to use a combo to counter Geoff Snider. If Ryan Hotaling dresses, it’ll be the Hotaling-Ilija Gajic combo against Snider. The favor needle is pointing heavily towards Snider.
Overall, it should be a great match up with a lot of goal scoring. Colorado has won 3 of their last 4 so they are definitely playing much better lacrosse than they were earlier this season. Calgary has been back and fourth lately, but most recently toppled Edmonton in the final game of the season. Calgary is also 2-1 against Colorado this season. I’m going with Calgary, they’ll scrape by in the 4th quarter for the win.
- #3 Edmonton Rush @ #2 Washington Stealth
I don’t think there could be a more evenly matched game between than these two teams. Edmonton lost the last game of their season and that dropped them down to the #3 spot in the West. Washington beat Philly to jump up to the #2 spot to host the first round playoff game.
The main offensive weapon for the Stealth, Rhys Duch. Duch was the league leader in goals this season with 45, and 3rd on overall points with 96. He lit it up this season even when Washington was struggling. He is joined by Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Innucci to complete the offensive power trio. Once again, the key asses the Stealth has is Bob Snider facing off. Not as dominant as his bother, yet still gets the job done winning 61% of his draws. Not a daunting number but Edmonton’s Jeremey Thompson is only winning 44% – slight favor to Snider.
The Rush have rookie phenom Mark Matthews at the offensive helm. Matthews finished top in scoring among all rookies this season. He is 2nd on the team in points behind Ryan Ward. The Rush have played very well this season and can make a splash in the playoffs. They were one of the last teams in the post-season last year, yet made it all the way to the championship game. Don’t count out the Rush’s defense either. Kyle Rubisch is the best defender in the game right now.
It is very tough for me to call this game. I thought these two teams have the best shot to win the Champion’s Cup. The story of this game is going to be Edmonton’s offense against the stingy defense of the Stealth. If Snider continues to control draws, Stealth will take this game. Their defense has been solid throughout the season and they’ll need to be tough to make it to the next round.
East Division Semifinals
- #4 Minnesota Swarm @ #1 Toronto Rock
Minnesota finished with a better record than the Bandits, therefore they get the crossover game and become the 4th seed in the East Division. This is a tough match up because I want to say that the West Division played a little bit tougher than the East this year. Having the last seed Swarm play the first seed Rock is very interesting to me.
First off, the Rock have Garrett Billings handling the ball. Billings was the #2 over all point leader this season, and #2 on assists. He is a player that has been in the league for a few years and has great vision. He has the ability to dissect the Swarms defense – The Swarm’s defense is their weakness. Toronto also has Colin Doyle who finished #5 in the league for assists. The Rock have plenty of offensive firepower with Billings, Doyle, Sanderson, and Leblanc. Their defense and transition are solid and they have one of the best goalies in the league with Nick Rose. Bottom line, Toronto looks very good moving forward.
The young-gun Minnesota squad worked hard down the stretch and punched themselves a ticket to the postseason. Most people wrote off the Swarm after Andrew Suitor went down with his ACL injury, but Minnesota roared back winning 4 of their last 6. Leading the offensive charge are Callum Crawford, Ryan Benesch, along with rookies Shayne Jackson and Kiel Matisz. A very young and athletic team that does very well in transition, especially with players like Jordan MacIntosh and David Earl.
Toronto has no definitive face off guru which leads me to believe MacIntosh will control the vast majority of the draws. Toronto had much better special team numbers – they cash in on nearly 56% of their power plays will killing 63% of their man down situations. Even though Minnesota have been scoring in bunches, I think Toronto takes it on special teams.
- #3 Philadelphia Wings @ #2 Rochester Knighthawks
Another tough game to call. Rochester has been surviving off the tremendous play of Matt Vinc, but as of late, the offense is making great strides as well. Dan Dawson has finally settled in and is point big points on the board. The left-side is still deadly as ever with Cody Jamieson and Johnny Powless. With no player on the roster winning more than 45% of their face offs, draw controls become extra important and could be the Achilles heel for the Knighthawks. As long as Vinc continues his best brick-wall impression, and they managed to get a few points on the board, the Knighthawks should make it out of the first round.
Just like the Knighthakws, the Wings do not have an overwhelming amount of offensive firepower. What the lack in traditional offense they make up in young and athletic transition players. Players such as: Brodie Merrill, Joel White, and Kyle Hartzell. Add those players to the names of Kevin Crowley, Drew Westervelt, and Kevin Buchanan, now you have a formula for success. Jeff Reynolds winning 61% of the face offs he takes plus the return of Brendan Mundorf just increases the Wings chances of an upset.
A weak spot for the Wings is going to be special teams, but that shouldn’t be the deciding factor. The Knighthawks have bested the Wings twice this season while only losing to them once. If the Wings can jump out to an early lead they can run with the Knighthawks all game. If they can find a way to score on Vinc that is. I’m going with the Wings in a stunning upset.
There you have it, the complete breakdown of the first-round playoff games. I’ll be tweeting updates throughout the playoffs so follow me on Twitter @connors36.