The Buffalo Bandits claimed the last available 2012 NLL playoff spot with a win over the Rochester Knigthawks on Saturday night. (Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)
The sprint to reach the postseason is over with one week to spare. While Edmonton and Buffalo will play in May, Washington has been left out in the cold.
Following a 2-7 start, Edmonton locked down its postseason spot with Friday night’s 14-11 win over Colorado that kept the Mammoth from clinching the West Division title and top overall seed.
“It’s a great win,” goaltender Aaron Bold told Nick Salen of NLL.com after making 49 saves on 60 shots in Denver. “I think we’re starting to peak at the right time and we’re going to carry that momentum into the playoffs.”
Edmonton could have made it a sweep of the league’s top two teams on Saturday in the latest chapter of the Battle of Alberta. While the defense did its part, the offense missed Zack Greer (concussion) and Scott Evans (healthy scratch) in a 9-6 loss to Calgary.
That gave the Roughnecks the top overall seed in the postseason – and set up a rematch with the Rush in a divisional semifinal matchup on May 5 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“A little redemption on our minds - they knocked us out from our dream a couple of years back,” Riggers coach Dave Pym said, referring to a first-round playoff loss at home to the Rush in 2010. “To be able to get an opportunity to play against a team that did that to you is always nice for some extra motivation.”
Buffalo claimed the last of the eight available playoff spots with Saturday’s 14-9 win over Rochester. Though they’ve suffered nine losses in a season for the first time in franchise history and were in danger of being the only team not to reach the playoffs, the Bandits still are confident.
"It's been a lot more frustrating for (head coach and general manager Darris Kilgour) than it's been for the players," Mat Giles told Budd Bailey of the Buffalo News. "We believe in ourselves. And we see what we can do on nights like this."
Rochester fired 55 shots on goal at Buffalo’s Anthony Cosmo, who’s been getting better in net each week, but lost for the fourth in five games.
“We had some good chances and (Cosmo) shut the door,” Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen told Travis Larner of NLL.com. “They stuck to their game plan (Saturday night) and we panicked a little bit.”
Sadly, one team was ousted from postseason contention. Few, if any, at the start of the season thought it would be the Stealth.
Over the past two seasons, the Stealth have won the West Division crown twice, beat Toronto for the Champion’s Cup in 2010 and dropped last season’s NLL title rematch by one goal.
The Stealth still had faint playoff hopes heading into last weekend, but a 16-13 loss to the Rock combined with the Bandits win over the Knighthawks dashed them.
Toronto’s Colin Doyle moved past Hall of Famer Gary Gait into second place on the all-time scoring list with career point No. 1,166. However, the Rock’s captain has his eyes on a bigger prize that will be awarded next month.
“I really don’t know what it means to me personally. I think it’s quite an accomplishment, I’m sure, but I’m pretty focused on winning another championship,” Doyle told Ben Tole of NLL.com.
Colorado, which got off to a 6-0 start and was the first team to clinch a postseason berth, had its three-game winning streak snapped with Friday’s loss to the Rush. The Mammoth also know they will face Minnesota in the opening round of the postseason on weekend of May 4-6 at Pepsi Center.
With one game to play in the regular season, all eyes will be on John Grant Jr. as he tries to break the single-season scoring record Saturday night against the Swarm in a game to be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
Grant has 110 points (league-high 48 goals, 62 assists), leaving him six points shy of breaking John Tavares’ record of 115 set in 2001. He’s totaled just 12 points over the last two weeks, but Grant could be in line for a big game at the Xcel Energy Center.
Grant has eight goals and 10 assists in two games versus Minnesota this year.
The Swarm are peaking at the right time. After closing March with four straight losses, they’ve won three in a row including Saturday’s 15-10 win over Philadelphia. Kevin Ross and Callum Crawford each had nine points for Minnesota.
“These guys just don’t quit,” head coach and associate general manager Joe Sullivan said. “A lot of teams throw the term family around and we really have embodied just that. These guys play for each other all of the time.”
Unlike the West, which has its opening-round postseason matchups squared away, the picture coming out of the East is still muddled heading into Week 17.
Toronto can clinch the division with a win over Edmonton or a loss by Philadelphia to Rochester. The Wings, meanwhile, win the division with a victory and a Rock loss. Should Philadelphia lose, it will finish third and begin the postseason on the road.
Rochester would clinch a home playoff game with a win over Philadelphia, but finish fourth with a loss. Buffalo can finish no higher than third, ensuring they start the postseason away from home.
The ride’s not finished yet.