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Weekend recap: March madness

03/18/2013, 6:45pm EDT
By Jeff Baker for NLL.com

Toronto moves closer to playoffs, slow starts plague Philly, Rush's revenge in Rochester, camouflaged Knighthawks disappear, Swarm hold Stealth to a minimum, Colorado begins to peak, Buffalo can't climb out of hole

The Colorado Mammoth found some luck wearing their St. Patrick's Day-themed jerseys in Week #11. (Photo: Jack Dempsey)

Week #11 of the 2013 NLL regular season featured four games this past Saturday and while luck was on the side of both teams that sported St. Patrick's Day-themed jerseys, the two other home teams were left feeling green.

On Saturday afternoon, the Toronto Rock (8-3) moved closer to a playoff berth and even their season series with the Philadelphia Wings (5-5) with a 13-8 road win at Wells Fargo Center.

The Rock scored just 55 seconds into the game, led 4-1 after the first quarter, and never trailed on their way to their league-best eighth win.

“When we get into those holes, which we’ve seen, it’s been tough for us to get out,” Wings general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian told Philly.com. “We’ve to get that chemistry and our shooting percentage to where it needs to be to score those goals early on so that it’s a battle.”

On his 26th birthday, Toronto rookie transition player Kyle Belton scored his first NLL goal to open the scoring before adding two more in the fourth quarter for good measure.

"Any doubt who got the hammer?," Rock owner Jamie Dawick tweeted in reference to the team's internal player of the game award. "Birthday boy @KMBelton. First NLL goal wasn't good enough, so he went and got 3."

The Edmonton Rush (6-5) used a fast start to defeat the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks (4-6) with an 11-9 road win at The Blue Cross Arena on in a rematch of the 2012 NLL Championship Game.

“You try not to think about that game,” Rush forward Zack Greer told NLL.com about last year.

But you couldn't help but think of Rochester's comeback in their 9-6 home win last May, a game where they trailed 5-1 at halftime, when the Knighthawks suddenly pulled within 8-7 after being down 7-3 at the break on Saturday night.

“It looked a lot like the Champion’s Cup in the second half,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “We didn’t do a lot on offense in the third quarter."

Edmonton stopped Rochester's run by scoring three times in a 1:41 span early in the fourth quarter to pull away.

"We kept grinding away at it," Keenan said. "Then we got the three [goals] there because we kept at it. We didn't stop working."

Sporting blue digital camouflage jerseys, the Knighthawks were doomed by being pretty much invisible during the first half. The effort has been there but the team just hasn't found enough chemistry.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re not working together,” said Knighthawks forward Mike Accursi. “We’re struggling to find an identity. Last year, we had lots of different things happening in the locker room and outside of the locker room that brought us together whether we liked it or not. We gelled there. This year, it’s about finding that identity. [Who are] the 2013 Knighthawks?”

Tyler Carlson made 49 saves on 54 shots as the Minnesota Swarm (4-7) snapped their three-game losing streak and the three-game winning streak of the West Division-leading Washington Stealth (7-5) with a 12-5 home win at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night.

Carlson's .906 save percentage marked the best statistical performance by an NLL goalie in a complete game this year and the five goals scored by Washington were the fewest in an NLL game so far this season.

"He had a fantastic night," Stealth head coach Chris Hall told the Everett Herald. "He was solid. I think we didn't do a very good job of getting inside early and then he got comfortable and kept us to the outside. I think their defense kept us out and Carlson was on the money."

The win marked Minnesota’s first victory without Andrew Suitor, who was lost for the season with a knee injury, as they had gone 0-5 without him in the lineup.

“It kind of gets the monkey off of our back,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “Can we do it without [Suitor's] leadership and his toughness and his abilities? We can. It’s definitely tougher. It’s not going to be an easy road without him being here.”

The Colorado Mammoth (4-7) beat the Buffalo Bandits (5-6) for the second-straight week, this time with a dramatic 16-13 home win before a crowd of 15,511 at Pepsi Center on Saturday night.

The Mammoth led 10-5 early in the third quarter but the Bandits fought back to make it 10-9 before another Colorado run put Buffalo behind 14-9, a deficit that was too much to overcome.

“We dug ourselves a hole,” Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour told NLL.com. “We almost came out of it and then dug ourselves another hole and almost came out of that one. It’s hard to score six, seven goals in a row."

Mammoth forward Casey Powell, acquired from the Rochester Knighthawks before the trade deadline, posted six points (1+5) in his debut.

“It was amazing,” Powell said. “Just the energy of this crowd, it was crazy. I remember a lot of battles in here that’s depleted the energy out of me, but I feel like a young kid right now. So happy to be here. Hopefully I contributed, but it was just a great team win and hopefully I’ll add more to the team down the homestretch.”

Hope springs eternal in the month of March for all nine teams as they head down the homestretch. As Edmonton and Rochester proved last year with 6-10 and 7-9 regular season records respectively, teams just have to get into the playoffs for a chance to win the Champion's Cup. And with every team still within striking distance of the postseason, let the madness begin.

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