The Colorado Mammoth (6-8) host the Minnesota Swarm (6-8) at Pepsi Center on Saturday at 9pm ET. (Photo: Joshua Lawton)
The playoff push is reaching the breaking point in the West Division as the Colorado Mammoth (6-8) host the Minnesota Swarm (6-8) at Pepsi Center on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET with both teams looking to secure a spot in the postseason. Watch the game live on Altitude and on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
With one spot remaining in the West Division, as well as the possible crossover for the 4th seed in the East, both teams can clinch a playoff berth through various scenarios this weekend.
For Colorado, it’s simple. Win and they’re in. But they can also clinch with a loss and some help with a Washington win and one Rochester win.
Just one month ago, many people may have written off the Mammoth, who were 2-7 after dropping five-straight games. Since then, Colorado has been one of the hottest teams in the NLL by winning four of their last five games, most recently a 9-7 victory on the road against the first-place Edmonton Rush, snapping their five-game win streak in the process.
"We're very excited with the win,” said Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley. “Obviously Edmonton has been playing very well and we got some great performances from a few individuals, but I think overall it was a great team effort and we're excited the way we're playing right now. But we're back in the fire this week, another tough game and we're looking forward to it."
One of those individual efforts in Colorado’s victory last week was in net by Tye Belanger, who stopped 45 of 58 shots against the Rush, which earned him Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process. Overall, the young netminder continues to impress since taking over the job mid-season, as he sports an impressive .794 save percentage and a 9.48 GAA through seven games played.
With so much on the line, the Swarm will want to come up big on the road in Denver, but it won’t be easy according to head coach Joe Sullivan.
"The Pepsi Center is for sure one of the toughest farms to go into to play and compete,” Sullivan said. “We got to get the guys ready to personally get through that crowd. The way the fans react there is incredible and is great for our league and great for the game. But we got to take them out of it as quickly as we can. We've got to get some big stops early and we've got to get the net early and make sure that we build off of that so that we control the flow of the game."
If the defense was anything like they were against Edmonton, Colorado may have more headaches in trying to shut down the young Swarm shooters, and cannot rely on Belanger to come up big every chance the opposition gets.
Meanwhile, Colorado must find the net consistently in each quarter on offense. Throughout the season the Mammoth have had a tendency to come out flat in the third quarter, ultimately putting more pressure on the team entering the fourth. In addition, the team will need to put more quality shots on net.
Two key players to keep an eye on are Sean Pollock and Jordan McBride, who are tied for third on the team with 42 points. Both players are effective shooters who may get lost in the shadows behind the likes of John Grant, Jr and Adam Jones.
The Swarm can clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a win and some help around the league.
“We’ve got to take (Colorado) out of it as quickly as we can,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to get some big stops early and we’ve got to get ahead early and make sure we build off of that so that we control the flow of the game.”
Minnesota controls its own destiny and guarantees itself a spot in the playoffs with wins in its final two games, something the team would like to take advantage of.
“You’ve got to treat every game like a playoff game,” Sullivan said.
The Swarm come off a weekend split after setting a franchise scoring record in a 21-7 victory over the Buffalo Bandits before falling 15-13 to the Philadelphia Wings on Sunday, as Minnesota has won three of its last four games.
“It took a little bit longer than we wanted to get everyone on the same page and really coming together,” said Swarm forward Ryan Benesch. “It’s starting to come together right now. You can just see the attitudes. Everybody’s on the same page. We’re all joking around, laughing with each other having a great time. (We’re) just coming ready to play games.”
Swarm forward Callum Crawford has served as a spark to the team’s recent offensive explosion. Crawford’s scored 8 or more points in each of his last five outings. Crawford was named NLL Offensive Player of the Week for his 18-point performance over two games last weekend (6+12).
“(Crawford’s) made some adjustments,” Sullivan said. “The commitment that these guys have done just sticking to our gameplan, it’s really just enabled us. Not only just Callum, but offensively really to just find some lanes and put the ball in the back of the net.”
Minnesota can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Colorado AND a Rochester win over Calgary OR a Washington win over Buffalo OR a Edmonton win over Rochester. Can also clinch playoff berth via East crossover with a Washington win over Buffalo OR with a Philadelphia win over Toronto AND a Buffalo win over Washington AND two Rochester losses.