The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks host the Minnesota Swarm for their East Division Final playoff game at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 4pm ET with the winner advancing to the 2013 NLL Championship Game. (Photo: Scott Pierson)
The second-seeded defending champion Rochester Knighthawks host the fourth-seeded Minnesota Swarm at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET for their East Division Final playoff game with the winner advancing to the 2013 NLL Championship Game next weekend. Watch the games live exclusively on CBS Sports Network.
The only team that Rochester did not face in the 2013 regular season was Minnesota and vice versa. The two teams faced each other in an exhibition game in December, but a lot has changed in the five months since then.
According to head coach Mike Hasen, the Knighthawks “will be in for a tough one” against the Swarm.
“If you don’t know who Minnesota is, they certainly made a statement last week beating Toronto so handedly,” he said. “They’ve got speed, their goaltending is great, any guy on the floor can put the ball in the net at any point. They’re running on all cylinders.”
Saturday’s contest will mark the 14th time in 19 seasons that the Knighthawks have reached the Divisional Final, but only the fourth time that they’ve hosted the game. The last time the Knighthawks hosted an East Division Final, they went on to win the franchise’s second championship in 2007, when they ousted the Buffalo Bandits by a score of 14-13 before claiming the Champion’s Cup.
Goaltender Matt Vinc has been a wall in the net all season, and now has the hardware to prove it. Vinc, in his eighth season in the NLL, won an unprecedented third NLL Goaltender of the Year Award after breaking the single-season record for saves with 662.
“Definitely a huge honor and something I am proud of, but with the timing of the award, I am focused on this weekend,” Vinc said. “It is a huge accomplishment for the team and our defense. Hopefully, we continue our strong defensive play on Saturday.”
"He's been the guy we depend on the make the big save and bail us out when we make mistakes," Hasen said. "He has done that consistently throughout the season. He works hard both on and off the floor. The award is well deserved."
Rochester’s offense, which finished the season scoring the third-fewest goals per game, may be without two of their highest-scoring players. Cory Vitarelli has missed the last two games while leading scorer and 2012 Championship Game MVP Cody Jamieson left with a lower-body injury in their 10-8 home win over Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
With the absence of the left-handed goal scorers, forward Dan Dawson took charge against his former team by scoring a game-high four goals, surpassing Mark Steenhuis for seventh all-time in postseason goals scored. “Dangerous Dan” has recorded 110 points in only 16 career postseason games.
“We expect the same thing from Dawson,” Hasen said. “That’s the way we expect Dawson to play. That’s a big reason why he’s here. He’s clutch. He’s a great player who makes his teammates better as well.”
The Knighthawks will be playing in front of the national viewing audience for the fourth time in five weeks. Since 2012, they have a 5-1 record in games aired on CBS Sports Network.
“It’s just another game for us,” said Knighthawks forward Stephen Keogh. “You want to win every one you play no matter what.”
As the old saying goes, “to be the champ, you have to beat the champ” and the Swarm know taking down the repeat-minded Knighthawks will be no easy task.
“It’s not a team that anybody wants to go in and play, that’s for sure,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “I’m sure they’re looking to repeat and it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
The contest features a classic matchup between the high-powered Swarm offense and Rochester’s league-best stingy defense. Minnesota, led by the likes of Callum Crawford and 2013 NLL Transition Player of the Year Jordan MacIntosh who played collegiately at Rochester Institute of Technology, scored the second-most goals in the league this season (219) and has topped the 20-goal mark three times, including last Sunday in Toronto.
On the other end, the Knighthawks back end was best in the league in terms of goals allowed (165) during the regular season.
“They have a great defense,” said Swarm forward Ryan Benesch. “(Vinc’s) probably the best goalie in the league. If you’re forcing shots from the outside, he’s going to make those stops probably about nine out of 10 times.”
The Swarm are in this position for the second-consecutive year thanks to a 20-11 throttling they dealt the top-seeded Toronto Rock in the East Division Semifinal.
“We came out and played a great game,” Sullivan said. “The guys truly executed our game plan. Toronto struggled a little bit and we came out hot.”
Minnesota hopes to redeem their 2012 West Division Final performance where they were dismantled in a 15-3 home loss to the Edmonton Rush, who then came up just short against Rochester in the title game.
“We didn’t come out with an effort last year in that Division Final against Edmonton. We kind of laid an egg,” Benesch said. “The first thing we said after (last week’s) game was that’s one win. Forget about it now and then start focusing on Rochester and prepare mentally and physically for a war."
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Fans can also listen to Saturday's game on Sportsradio ESPN 950 in the Rochester area or online here.