Athan Iannucci (left) and the Washington Stealth are still battling with Buffalo and Edmonton for one of the remaining two playoff berths. (Photo Credit: Scott Pierson)
With three teams battling for the final two playoff spots, the National Lacrosse League’s 2012 season is shaping up as one sprint to the finish.
The Washington Stealth won the Champion’s Cup in 2010 and fell just short of making it back-to-back titles last spring. Now at 4-10, several things need to go right for the club to make the playoffs starting next month.
The Stealth’s postseason hopes were dealt a severe blow with Saturday’s 14-9 at Minnesota, which clinched a berth with the win. Coach Chris Hall’s club will face Toronto on Friday before playing the NLL’s final regular-season game on April 28 against Buffalo, which is currently last in the East Division and fighting for a postseason spot, as well.
“I think they have to be must-wins. Can we salvage the season? It’s still a possibility and we have two home games left to do it,” Hall told the Everett (Wash.) Herald.
Washington has won its last two at the Comcast Arena following an 0-4 start.
For the Stealth to move on, they need to win both of their remaining games and have Rochester beat Philadelphia on April 28. Washington would also get in if Buffalo loses its final two games.
The Bandits’ up-and-down season is headed the wrong way again. A big win over a playoff-bound team in a nationally televised game in Week 15 failed to generate any momentum as Buffalo lost 11-8 at Edmonton on Saturday to ensure its first losing season since 1999.
“Not a good effort, and we’re not happy with that,” Bandits forward Luke Wiles told Kyle Galliver of NLL.com. “We have to win the last two to get in. It’s not panic time, but it’s dig-deep time.”
The Bandits will secure a playoff spot with a win over Rochester this Saturday combined with a Washington loss to Toronto this Friday. They can also clinch with a win over Rochester on Saturday and a Knighthawks loss to Philadelphia or a Bandits win against Washington on April 28.
While Buffalo has its work cut out, the Rush have won three of four after a 1-6 stretch, and have the easiest road to making the playoffs, needing just a win in any of their final three games or a Stealth loss from here on out. Edmonton would also get in if Buffalo falls to Rochester on Saturday.
“We’ve got to take care of our own business,” Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan told Gerry Moddejonge of the Edmonton Sun. “We had a goal when we were sitting at 2-7, we had a certain number (of wins) we wanted to get to and we’re not there yet.”
The Swarm locked down their third straight playoff berth with Saturday’s win over Washington. Ryan Benesch, back after missing three games with a concussion, drew four assists and became the third player in team history with 100 career goals.
“It feels good to join Sean Pollock and Ryan Ward. It’s nice to be part of their company now because they’re two great players,” Benesch said.
The Knighthawks are also headed to the postseason. They beat Calgary 14-12 on Saturday for a home-and-home split with the Roughnecks and later clinched with Washington’s loss.
The victory snapped a three-game skid for the Knighthawks and pushed them into third place in the East, one game ahead of Buffalo.
“It’s real pivotal. Every game here on in is pivotal. It’s playoff lacrosse right now,” Rochester head coach Mike Hasen told Travis Larner of NLL.com.
A pair of rookies are performing like veterans down the stretch for Hasen. Stephen Keogh, the second overall pick in the 2011 NLL Entry Draft, had six goals and six assists in the two games versus Calgary. Johnny Powless, the fifth player taken last September, also had six goals with eight helpers over the past two weeks.
Rochester will next play Buffalo on Saturday night at the First Niagara Center in a game that airs live on the CBS Sports Network.
Calgary was on a roll, having won six straight overall and with a 6-0 road record. Both streaks came crashing to a halt far away from home with star goaltender Mike Poulin being scratched.
Poulin, who was second in the league in goals-against average coming into Week 15, injured his ankle during a wild finish in a 15-14 win over the Knighthawks on April 6 in Calgary to open the home-and-home set. Frankie Scigliano, making his first career NLL start, made 38 saves on 52 shots.
Needless to say, head coach Dave Pym wasn’t happy.
“It’s a sick feeling in the stomach that we’re taking home,” Pym told John Down of the Calgary Herald. “Preparations for the next game begin immediately after this one. The guys better come up with fire and passion in the next game.
“Bottom line, it was a good wake-up for our boys … better this week than in three weeks.”
That would be May 5, when Calgary hosts a home playoff game. First, there’s little doubt the Riggers will be fired up for the next game – they wrap up their regular-season schedule Saturday night at Edmonton in an always-entertaining “Battle of Alberta” matchup.
In Denver, two of the game’s all-time greats inched closer to a record and a milestone, respectively.
Colorado’s John Grant Jr. had three goals and three assists in the Mammoth’s 19-12 win over Toronto. With 104 points (league-leading 46 goals, 58 assists), Grant needs 12 more in the final two games to break John Tavares’ single-season record of 115 set in 2001.
“Obviously I’m thinking a little too much of it because I played God-awful in the second half,” said Grant, who missed two games last month with an upper-body injury.
The win, combined with Calgary’s loss, moved the Mammoth one-half game ahead of the Roughnecks in the West. Grant and the Mammoth will try keep Edmonton from clinching on Friday night.
As for the Rock, they had a three-game winning streak snapped and at 7-7 are tied atop the East with Philadelphia, which was idle. Captain Colin Doyle, though, had two goals and two assists, giving him 1,165 career points to tie Hall of Famer Gary Gait for second on the all-time list.