Four teams remain in the race for the Champion’s Cup. Here’s a quick look at the Divisional Finals coming up this Saturday night:
EAST DIVISIONAL FINAL
WHO: Rochester Knighthawks (8-9) at Toronto Rock (10-7)
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. ET at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
TUNE IN ON: CBS Sports Network.
LISTEN IN ON: Rochester Sports Radio 950 ESPN, streaming at www.sportsradio950espn.com/
The defending NLL champions took their first step toward a rare repeat after slipping past Buffalo 7-6 last Saturday night on former Bandit Brenden Thenhaus’ goal with 95 seconds to play and getting an overturned call of an apparent John Tavares marker with one second remaining. The seven goals scored were the fewest scored by a winning team in an NLL playoff game. A better showing on offense could help put Toronto in the Champion’s Cup for a third straight season, and head coach Troy Cordingley’s club may be facing the right opponent. The Rock defeated the Knighthawks in all three matchups this season, averaging 14.0 goals per game. No team has posted back-to-back Champion’s Cup wins since the Rock in 2002 and 2003, and the Knighthawks will be looking to reach the NLL title game for the first time since 2007. Led by head coach Mike Hasen, Rochester survived an opening-round scare with a 14-13 win over Philadelphia last Saturday. The Knighthawks led by five late in the contest, but gave up four unanswered goals before holding on. Rochester also will be looking for some payback – besides being outscored 42-30 while being swept in this season’s series, the Knighthawks were ousted from the playoffs by Toronto last year.
WEST DIVISIONAL FINAL
WHO: Edmonton Rush (7-10) at Minnesota Swarm (10-7)
WHEN & WHERE: 9:30 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
TUNE IN ON: CBS Sports Network
LISTEN IN ON: Minnesota Radio KFGI 101.5 FM, streaming broadcast will be available
One thing is certain – either Minnesota or Edmonton will be playing in the Champion’s Cup for the first time following what appears to be a meeting of two evenly matched teams. The Rush and Swarm split their two head-to-head meetings this season with each team scoring a total of 18 goals and winning by one at home in overtime. Edmonton is still basking in the glow of its 19-11 upset of top overall seed Calgary last Saturday. Though general manager and head coach Derek Keenan’s squad had the worst regular-season record of all eight playoff teams at 6-10, they put together a solid effort on both ends of the floor in the Battle of Alberta. Ryan Ward and Corey Small accounted for a good chunk of the offense with five goals apiece as Edmonton set a club record for goals scored in a game. All-Star Aaron Bold was solid again in goal, allowing fewer than 10 for the sixth time in 2012. The Swarm, led by associate general manager and head coach Joe Sullivan, got their first win in six playoff games all-time after topping Colorado 14-10 last Saturday. While Ryan Benesch notched seven points (three goals, four assists), the Swarm got another outstanding effort from Evan Kirk, who stopped 35 of 45 shots in his playoff debut. In Minnesota’s 9-8 loss to Edmonton on March 31, Kirk took over after fellow rookie Tyler Carlson struggled and took the loss despite being nearly perfect. Kirk didn’t allow a second-half goal and stopped 25 of 26 shots over the final 37:17.
The head coaches from all four teams are scheduled to speak to the media on Wednesday. Check back to NLL.com as each team's beat writer previews the weekend and the coaches talk about what it's going to take for their teams to advance to the Championship Game.