Before the New England Black Wolves and Rochester Knighthawks face off on Sunday afternoon, all eyes in New England will be on the Saturday night matchup in Toronto between the Rock and the Wings.
A Toronto win means New England can clinch a playoff spot with a win of their own. But if the Rock lose, the Black Wolves can join them for 3rd place in the National Lacrosse League’s East Division, a spot that would become their own because of the head-to-head win over Toronto back on February 24th.
The Black Wolves have a difficult road ahead. With five games to play, New England will face the top teams in the East and West, along with bookend games against Rochester, and in the middle, one huge matchup with Toronto on April 12th at Scotiabank Arena.
The key to this late season push for the playoffs is not overlooking the two-win Rochester club that comes in to Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday afternoon.
New England (7-6) and Rochester (2-11) already met back in early February when the Black Wolves were gasping for air. The Black Wolves were coming off back-to-back loses, including a 15-5 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bandits at home and a tough 10-8 loss in Georgia against the Swarm. At the time, New England was 3-3 and in desperate need of some life. That shot of life came in the form of a massive 16-13 win over the Knighthawks.
Since that win, the Black Wolves have been a force to be reckoned with in the NLL, and now sit on the brink of clinching a playoff berth.
The New England Black Wolves will go as far as superstar Callum Crawford can take them. Crawford’s 34 goals in 11 games is good for a 3.09 goals per game average, over half a goal per game higher than the other top goal scorers in the NLL. Crawford also has a league high average of 7.36 points per game, compared to Buffalo’s Dhane Smith who holds the next highest of 6.46 points per game.
Crawford has missed the last two games for New England after being suspended for a match penalty in the February 24th matchup with the Rock. In that game with Toronto, Crawford took over the league lead in goals and points. But since then, the Black Wolves have found many more sources of offense.
Secondary scoring has been the Achilles heel for the Black Wolves in recent years. In previous years the majority of the scoring had fallen on the shoulders of Kevin Crowley and Shawn Evans. Crowley and Evans combined for 35.45% of New England’s points since 2016 and 219 of New England’s 534 goals. Their 219 goals in that span made up for 41% of Black Wolves goal scoring, including 42 of 89 goals in the nine games before Evans was traded last year. At the time of the trade, Evans and Crowley’s combined 47.19% was the highest percentage of team goals for any duo in the NLL.
Coincidentally, New England traded Evans for Crawford in 2018. All Crawford has done since the trade is score 49 of their 239 goals in the games he has played. That makes up for just over 20% of the team’s scoring and with the trade of Crowley early this season, the Black Wolves needed to find scoring somewhere else in their lineup.
Recently, New England has found that secondary scoring. Four Black Wolves currently sit in the NLL’s top 25 in scoring. One of those four is Reilly O’Connor who has already set a career high in goals with 21 and points with 56. He is also only one shy of his career high of 36 assists. Veterans Stephan Leblanc and Tyler Digby have also added much needed depth to the offensive side. Leblanc and Digby have both scored 22 goals so far on the year. The surprise has been with rookie Dereck Downs who has 15 goals in 12 games this season.
Not yet mentioned is Joe Resetarits who was acquired only two games ago from this week’s opponent, Rochester. Since the trade, Resetarits has put together four goals and four assists in two games.
Accompany all that offense with the stellar goaltending duo of Doug Jamieson and Alex Buque. The two have combined for only 11.875 goals against in the eight games since the demoralizing 15-5 defeat to Buffalo back in February.
New England has five games left this season and with two of them matching up with Rochester, they have to make sure that they do not look past this game on Sunday afternoon if they have any hopes of moving past the first weekend of the NLL playoffs. For the Black Wolves, the postseason mentality starts on Sunday. It is one game to get to the next from here on out.
Face-off is set for 1:00 P.M. on Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena.