It all comes down to this. The new season. After a rocky start to the 2019 NLL season, we’re finally into the NLL playoffs, where losing means you clean out your locker and start waiting for the protected player lists and expansion draft. Winning means that you are one game closer to hoisting the trophy.
This year saw a NLL playoff expansion, where each division has four teams in. That means the eliminated squads are Philadelphia, Rochester, and Vancouver. In the East, Buffalo lived up to their preseason expectations and earned the top seed. Georgia and Toronto were not far behind with just two fewer wins at 12-6 and take home the second and third seeds, respectively. New England is the final team from the east, marking yet another consecutive playoff appearance. But they need to turn this one into a win.
In the west, the Rush earned the top seed with 11 wins, but this was not the dominant, run away with the division year that we have seen from them before. They are still the Rush, and are still a great team, but are certainly vulnerable this year. Behind them is the shocking emergence of San Diego as the second seed. They’ll be playing the third seeded Roughnecks while the Mammoth take the final spot in the NLL playoffs.
When evaluating playoff fields, it’s always fun to take a look at how each team has done against the teams who are also in. Did their losses come from outside of the division? To teams they won’t face again? What happened? For the east, the both Georgia and Buffalo were 9-4 against all east opponents while Toronto was 8-5, and New England was 5-8. Out west, Saskatchewan was 9-3 in the west, San Diego 8-4, Calgary 6-6, and Colorado 4-8. Against just other intradivisional playoff opponents, Buffalo was 4-3 , Toronto 4-4, Georgia 5-3, and New England 2-5. New England is definitely on the wrong end of that state. By the same metric out west, Saskatchewan was 6-3, San Diego 6-3, Calgary 4-5, and Colorado 2-7.
Our analysis is provided by NCAA Editor Ryan Conwell and LAS Contributor Steve Wizniuk. These two have provided an in-depth analysis of every game, complete with predictions by Steve. Get out your reading glasses and get ready for our 2019 NLL Playoffs preview.
NLL PLAYOFFS – Round 1 Matchups
#1 Buffalo Bandits vs #4 New England Black Wolves
Saturday May 4 at 7:30 pm ET
Ryan Conwell: This game heavily favors the Bandits and it is not just because of the seed. In their two games this year, Buffalo won by a combined 16 points. Their first meeting in January was a 15-5 stomping in New England, ending a Black Wolves three game winning streak. Just a few weeks ago was their second match that saw Buffalo win 12-6. That leaves Buffalo as the only eastern team that New England has not beat yet. Oddly enough, New England is the only eastern playoff team Buffalo did not lose it. It really emphasizes how important it will be to play a complete game. Offense, defense, and transition will all need to be operating in unison to top the Bandits at home.
The Bandits were the best team in the league during the regular season with their league leading 14 wins, which is wild to think that they were one of the worst teams in the league and missed the playoffs the last two seasons. The Black Wolves were challenging the Bandits for 1st in the East in the beginning of the season, but stumbled a bit at the end. These are two very different teams, but in these one game elimination playoffs anything can happen if a team gets in a groove.
This Bandits team has made their intentions clear from the start of the season; they will not be satisfied unless they win it all. From top to bottom this is one of the most balanced NLL teams in recent memory. It all starts with Matt Vinc in net who has been playing like a Hall of Famer all season and has provided the veteran presence the Bandits needed to get back on track to the championship. Dhane Smith scored over 100 points for the fourth time in his career and Shawn Evans was not far behind with 94 points. Add in dynamic players like Chase Fraser, Thomas Hoggarth, Corey Small, Ian MacKay, Steve Priolo, and really their whole roster and the Bandits will be tough to beat.
The Black Wolves at moments in the regular season looked like one of the most dangerous teams in the league, but with some missteps and Callum Crawford missing some games to suspension they limped their way into the playoffs. One big sign of hope has been the play of goaltender Doug Jamieson who has won the Black Wolves some games this season almost single handedly with some last minute saves. Their offense can be deadly when running on all cylinders and will need to show up to have any chance of beating the Bandits in an old fashioned shootout. Veterans like Andrew Suitor, Callum Crawford, and Joe Resetarits will be crucial in helping this young team try and get an upset.
The Bandits defeated the Black Wolves 12-6 just two weeks ago so New England needs to make some serious changes to have a chance at taking down the juggernaut that is the Buffalo Bandits.
NLL Playoffs Prediction: Buffalo wins 16-10
#2 Georgia Swarm vs #3 Toronto Rock
Monday May 6 at 7:30 pm ET
RC: The season series here went 2-1 in favor of the Swarm. Georgia won the first meeting by one in December, Toronto took the second by five in January, then Georgia took the final head to head by a whopping nine in March. This is a tough one to pick a winner in. Georgia has the edge in terms of overall potential and playoff experience, but Toronto is no pushover. They looked like the best team in the league for parts of this season, which cannot be ignored. The Swarm are just such a force in playoff time, it will be hard to not give them the not. But this game is about as close as a coin flip on paper.
These two Eastern Conference rivals finished the season with the same record of 12-6, but the Swarm have the tiebreaker. Georgia won their first matchup of the year by one goal and then they traded the next two games. I think this playoff game will be very similar to their first meeting way back in December where it came down to the last possession. This game will be a track meet as both teams love to run up in transition and each team has their stars that can take over a game when it matters most.
SW: Georgia is never out of a game as long as Lyle Thompson is on the floor. He can do it all and when these teams met in December Lyle single handedly won the game by scoring the last two goals of the game. Throw in three more players with 80 or more points in Holden Cattoni, Shayne Jackson, and Randy Staats and the Rock defense will have a lot on their plate. The Swarm may be in trouble if goaltender Mike Poulin remains out with an injury and may have to rely on backup Kevin Orleman and their defense to contain the Rock’s sharpshooters.
Toronto has some offensive weapons of its own in Tom Schreiber, Adam Jones, Rob Hellyer, Dan Craig, and Johnny Powless that are all healthy now and will cause some serious problems for the Swarm defense. Throw in Challen Rogers and Brandon Slade, who have turned into two way players toward the end of the season, and it will tough to scout exactly who the Rock will be having come out the O door. They have had some questions during the season about their defense and goalie Nick Rose, but the Rock were one of the most clutch teams in the league during the regular season winning both overtime games they were a part of. Expect the defense to bear down and the offense to come up with a goal for a wild finish.
You do not want to miss this game as it has the potential to be the most dramatic game of the first round.
NLL Playoffs Prediction: Toronto wins 14-13 in overtime
Going out West, the fun starts Friday night.
#1 Saskatchewan Rush vs #4 Colorado Mammoth
Friday May 3 at 9:30 pm ET
RC: The season series between these two is all in favor of the Rush. There was a pair of 9-7 wins and a 13-8 win to end the season. So while the 3-0 record against the Rush seems like a unclimbable mountain for the Mammoth, those are still relatively close games. Those two 9-7 games were also two of the three times the Rush were held under ten goals. The trouble for the Mammoth will be generating the offense to compensate. Their problem all season is putting the ball in the net as they scored more than 12 goals only once and were held to single digits six times including in their last four games.
SW: The Rush swept the Mammoth in their regular season matchups, but two of the three games the Rush only beat them by two goals. The defending champions know what it takes to win playoff lacrosse games and their experience will be key to making it out of the first round. The Mammoth barely snuck their way into the playoffs, but now that they have another chance to make up for their lackluster regular season.
The Rush are as deadly offensively as ever with weapons like Ben McIntosh and Robert Church on the right side and Mark Matthews, Ryan Keenan, and the veteran Jeff Shattler. Veteran defenders like Kyle Rubisch and Chris Corbeil usually play their best lacrosse in the playoffs. Jeremy Thompson has been great at the faceoff dot all season, but will have his hands full with Colorado’s Tim Edwards who fared well against him in the regular season. The only question for the Rush comes in net as Evan Kirk and Adam Shute have traded time all season. Who will get the call for the most important game of the season so far?
The Mammoth have found some young goal scorers in the righty RIT connection Ryan Lee and Kyle Killen as well as lefty Jeff Wittig that will need to come up big in their first NLL playoff game to give their team a chance to win. The pieces have been there all season for the Mammoth to succeed with a veteran goalie in Dillon Ward and a solid core of D and transition players, but too many little mistakes added up in most of their losses during the year. If this team plays up to their potential they could silence the crowd at the Sasktel Centre and make a surprise playoff run.
NLL Playoffs Prediction: Saskatchewan wins 11-8
#2 San Diego Seals vs #3 Calgary Roughnecks
Monday May 6 at 10:30 pm ET
RC: The Seals own this head to head on the season 2-1. They lost the first one 9-5, but improved significantly by winning the next two 15-9 and 16-9. The problem for the Seals is those games were both before they lost Austin Staats for the season. With any luck, Joe Walters will be able to step up increase the offense’s output in the playoffs. This is also a tough matchup in terms of overall momentum for the Seals. They ended the season on a loss and are running into the Roughnecks who are coming off of three straight wins. As good of a story as the Seals are in their first year, they need to win this one to really make some history.
SW: The San Diego Seals pulled a Las Vegas Golden Knights and have made it to the playoffs in their first year as a team. Can they make a run to the NLL Championship similar to the Golden Knights impressive run last year? They will have to do so without star rookie Austin Staats. Calgary on the other hand has been getting players back from injury and are coming into the playoffs on a three game winning streak.
The Roughnecks had an up and down regular season, but have come on strong in their last few games and come into the playoffs with a head of steam. Calgary may also have an Ace up their sleeve as Jesse King has gotten into the lineup the past two games and San Diego has not played against him this season. King could get more chances to score as the Seals defense will likely be more focused on Curtis Dickson, Rhys Duch, and MVP candidate Dane Dobbie. Expect Zach Currier to cause havoc in the middle of the floor as he was in the top of the league for loose balls and caused turnovers. Goalie Christian Del Bianco will keep them in the game as he has been solid all season.
The Seals will have to throw the best they have at Calgary as they have been in a bit of rut since losing Austin Staats to injury. They should not worry too much though as they have plenty of playoff experience coming from Dan Dawson, Garrett Billings, Brodie Merrill, Cam Holding, Joe Walters, and Adrian Sorichetti despite it being the franchise’s first time in the playoffs. Frank Scigliano will need to play his best game of the year to stop the Roughnecks shooters from getting in a groove. Having the game at home will definitely give them a boost especially if they can get a good crowd for the Monday night game.
San Diego won two of three against Calgary during the regular season, but both teams look much different heading into the playoffs and there is a lot more on the line. Expect a close game that has a chance to go to overtime.
Prediction: Calgary wins 12-11
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