The NLL Playoffs: Upset City

NLL division finals 2014 rochester knighthawks buffalo bandits edmonton rush calgary roughnecks

Both of the top seeds went on the road and lost last weekend in NLL action. Edmonton went to Calgary and dropped a tough 12-11 decision to the Roughnecks. Rochester made the short trip on the Thruway to Buffalo and dropped a 12-8 game to a surging Buffalo Bandits.

The Western teams will now head to Edmonton for the second game of the series. If Edmonton wins, there will be a ten-minute mini game to determine the finalist. Edmonton’s only loss at home was to the Roughnecks. So there’s that. The same goes for the Eastern teams, except they go to Rochester, where the Knighthawks are notoriously tough. If Rochester wins, we get another 10-minute mini game.

If you’re wondering how we got here, allow me to recap both games. I’ll keep it quick since you probably watched these games. Broad strokes. You did watch these games, right?

Rochester @ Buffalo – Game 1 of 2

Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo Rochester Knighthawks Buffalo Bandits NLL lacrosse Cody Jamieson
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo

Buffalo started off hot, and went up 2-0. Rochester answered and took a 3-2 lead. Then Buffalo retook the lead and a seemingly endless see-saw battle was underway. At 6-5, it seemed like this was the path we would all be on, and when Rochester made it 6-6, the feeling was enhanced. Rochester takes a 7-6 lead and Buffalo answers to tie it at 7s. We’re surely in for an OT thriller. Rochester goes up 8-7 on a power play goal by Cory Vitarelli, with just over 7 minutes left.

Buffalo ties it up on a John Tavares goal (his third beauty of the night) around the six minute mark, and 8 seconds later Dhane Smith scores to put the Bandits up 1. A minute later, Smith strikes again, and now Taveres, Smith, and Steenhuis have hat tricks. Steenhuis nets his 4th with over 3 minutes left, and Buffalo is up 11-8. Smith leaves the ball for Tavares on the break and Buffalo goes up 4. A quick run of goals put the game away quickly for the Bandits. No goals in the 3rd quarter, then 5 goals in under 4 minutes.

Edmonton @ Calgary – Game 1 of 2

Zack Greer scores pretty quickly in the game for Edmonton, but it’s ruled no goal. The Rush throw the replay flag, and Calgary argues that the challenge flag was thrown too late. It’s ruled no goal after the replay, and Edmonton loses their challenge. Edmonton almost gets one, but they go in the crease again. Calgary scores a goal where the player may have been in the crease, but Edmonton couldn’t challenge it. No matter, as the physical, hustle-filled play continued Edmonton got a transition goal, and we were all tied up. We would see a LOT more of this throughout the course of the game as both teams played some settled ball, used a good deal of tranny work, and continued to play physical, Western-style lacrosse.

Edmonton went up 2-1 and looked like they were ready to put up some goals quickly, but Mike Poulin was excellent in between the pipes. EDM went up 4-1, but Poulin was still playing very well, even though it looked like the Rush were starting to dominate the pace of play. Calgary effectively used their challenge to pull back a Mark Matthews goal to keep it 4-1 after one quarter.

The Rush go up 5-1 on a 5 minute man up, but Calgary narrows the lead back to 3 on a 2-man advantage. Calgary scores two quick goals a couple minutes later and then the Rush tack on a couple of goals to make it 7-4. Calgary got a tranny goal to make it 7-5 before the half. It took 5 minutes for anyone to break the ice in the second half, and it was rookie Karsen Leung in transition for the Roughnecks to make it 7-6.

8-7 Edmonton. 9-8 Calgary.10-9 Edmonton. This is where it got good. Plenty of beauty goals, and then Curtis Dickson puts away another goal for Calgary and we’re tied at 10. The goal was challenged but stood up to the test. With 1:24 left, Greer puts Edmonton up 11-10. With less than thirty seconds left, Curtis Dickson puts away a penalty shot, which just barely goes in. 11-11. Wow. OT time.

Edmonton scores a goal, but it’s waved off for an obvious crease violation. Calgary brings it down, Shattler takes a shot, grabs the rebound and puts it away. Game, blouses. It gets reviewed, but stands. Ok, game blouses. Calgary heads to Edmonton with a 1-0 series lead!

Surprised The Top Seeds Lost?

Rochester played well, but Buffalo got some magic from John Taveres, and the rest of the Bandits. Dhane Smith was breaking ankles and canning shots. Tavares had a long bomb, a quick stick, and a dive… he was on point. Buffalo is always capable of this, and Rochester didn’t have a great night shooting. It’s not a total shocker.

When it comes to Edmonton, I’m a little surprised. Winning all your games and then dropping the most important one? It’s not to be expected, especially when Calgary was without Geoff Snider. The Rush must be loving the new format for the playoffs right now, you can expect them to rise to the occasion.

The New Format

I have to say… I like it!

This may be insane, and it may be because I want to see these 10-minute mini-games play out, but I am a fan nonetheless. If two teams split games, they have 10 minutes to score some Gs. Sounds fair to me, and it doesn’t mean a full third game (and all of the associated costs and contingencies, which is good for a smaller pro league).

It wouldn’t work for other sports or bigger leagues, but I think it compliments the NLL well for proving that teams deserve to play for the Champions’ Cup and for keeping the playoffs exciting.

The three ref system used in the playoffs puts extra eyes on and off the ball, we saw some tight off-ball calls early in the first Western final. I love watching good competitive lacrosse without all the unnecessary extracurricular activities (not that a little rough-housing isn’t awesome!)

Watch Them Live

East Division Final

Game Two: Buffalo Bandits (10-10) at Rochester Knighthawks (14-5)

Saturday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Blue Cross Arena

Watch BUF at ROC live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network

West Division Finals

Game Two: Calgary Roughnecks (14-6) at Edmonton Rush (16-3)

Friday, May 16 at 10 p.m. ET at Rexall Place

Watch CGY at EDM live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network