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Fight or flight: Knighthawks will host Wings to open postseason

04/22/2013, 4:00pm EDT
By NLL.com's Knighthawks beat writer Travis Larner and Wingslax.com

Defending champion Rochester meets Philadelphia in first round

The second-seeded Rochester Knighthawks host the third-seeded Philadelphia Wings for their first-round East Division Semifinal playoff game at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 5pm ET, live on CBS Sports Network. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

After clinching a postseason berth and the second seed in the East Division with a road win in the finale last weekend, the Rochester Knighthawks host the third-seeded Philadelphia Wings for their first-round East Division Semifinal playoff game at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on CBS Sports Network or listen to the game on ESPN Sportsradio 950AM here.

Rochester returns home after closing the regular season on a four-game road trip. The Knighthawks went just 3-5 on their home turf this year, but as head coach Mike Hasen noted, they won their last two home games.

“It’s playoff lacrosse and it is a good thing being home,” Hasen said. “We’re going to be on our routine for the most part. Lately, we’ve been playing well there, which is a good thing. We just got to bear down. We’re in another situation where, if we lose – we’re done.”

The Knighthawks won the three-game season series 2-1 over the Wings. In both of the victories, they doubled up their division rival on the scoreboard. At Wells Fargo Center on Feb. 8, Rochester scored a season-high 20 goals in a 20-10 victory over Philadelphia. During the regular season home finale on April 6, they defeated the Wings by a score of 14-7. Former Wings forward Dan Dawson led Rochester with 15 points (6+9) in those two wins.

Despite his team’s run to the Champion’s Cup win last season, which began with a 14-13 win against Philadelphia in the first round of the postseason, Hasen doesn’t want the Knighthawks to think about what they accomplished a year ago.

“Last year is last year,” he said. “Some guys got some experience out of it. We got some experience out of it as a staff as well. We talk about parity. On any given night, any team is going to come in and win.”

Although the Wings were blown out in by Rochester twice this season, they did overcome a four-goal deficit in the first quarter to beat the Knighthawks by a margin of 10-8 at The Blue Cross Arena on Feb. 23, one example of the parity in the National Lacrosse League. The win snapped an 11-game losing streak to Rochester.

Defensively, the Knighthawks will be without Rory Glaves, who was placed on the Injured Reserve List with a lower-body injury. In his place, Kyle Laverty was activated off of the Holdout List and may see his first action of 2013 this weekend.

Goaltender Matt Vinc has backstopped his teams to the postseason in each of the last five seasons. He has a 4-1 all-time record in the opening round of the playoffs with a 10.33 goals-against average and a .780 save percentage. Vinc is coming off one of the best seasons in league history, setting the league’s single-season record with 662 saves and leading all starting goaltenders with a 10.17 goals against average and an .803 save percentage.

Out the front door, Rochester’s offense features two of the league’s all-time postseason scoring leaders. Dawson ranks third overall in NLL playoff history with 65 assists and fourth with 104 points while Mike Accursi is tied with John Grant, Jr. for third in postseason goals (55) and fifth on the list with 93 points.

“Our struggles against Rochester have been well publicized, and to their credit they are a very good lacrosse team, but we are approaching this as one game, a best-of-one series, that we have to win,” said Wings assistant captain Brett Manney. “We know we have to take care of ourselves and get a playoff win for us in the locker room and for the organization. This is something our fans and this organization have been looking for, for quite some time now.”

Philadelphia visited Rochester in late February and picked up their first win over their division rivals since 2009, winning 10-8. That win spurred a three game win streak for the Wings, the exact number of wins needed to win the NLL championship. At 7-9, the Wings are the three seed in the East Division and enter the playoffs with the same record the defending champion Knighthawks had going into the playoffs last year, before rattling off three wins on their way to the 2012 NLL Championship. 

“This is the time of year where everyone comes together,” said Wings general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian. “This is why you play – for the playoffs. We have a high level of intensity that we need to bring and we’re excited for the game.”

The Wings offense has peaked at the right time, with the team reaching double digits in each of the past three games. Goals have come from the usual suspects, forwards Drew Westervelt and Kevin Crowley have each scored eight goals in the month of April, but also from some of the less likely. Rookie defender Michael Manley scored the first two goals of his career in back-to-back games this month, while transition player Brodie Merrill contributed back-to-back shorthanded breakaway goals against Washington last week. The Wings will look to both their key contributors and fringe scorers like Manley, Merrill and defender Kyle Hartzell who also scored two goals in the Wings’ 2-2 record for the month of April, to balance the offense and provide support for the defense.

“We feel we’re playing at a level that is conducive to playing at a high level in the playoffs. We’re scoring goals and we’re pleased with what the ‘O’ is doing,” Mouradian said. “We have to focus on what we do well and get ourselves the right opportunity, at the right time and take advantage of those opportunities to score. We’d like to get to a position where at the end of the game, if it is a low-scoring game, our defense has enough goals in front of them to be successful.”

Starting strong and scoring early, something the Wings have struggled with this season will be especially important for Philadelphia when they meet up with arguably the strongest defense in the league on Saturday.

Behind veteran goaltender Matt Vinc, who leads the league with a 10.17 goals against average, the Knighthawks have given up a league-low 165 goals. Forwards Crowley, Westervelt, Kevin Buchanan and former Knighthawks player Jordan Hall have each scored four goals against Rochester this season in their three previous matchups, accounting for 16 of the 27 total goals in those games.

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