The New England Black Wolves and Colorado Mammoth face off on Sunday afternoon in similar but very different positions within their respective divisions. New England (6-4) sits comfortably in the East’s final playoff spot while Colorado (3-6) has a battle with Vancouver for the 4th seed in the West.
Even with Colorado closer to being knocked out of the last playoff position, in terms of games back, the Mammoth are closer to first place than the Black Wolves. Colorado sits two games behind first place Saskatchewan and New England is two and a half behind Buffalo.
In their remaining eight games, the Black Wolves will play East Division teams only five times. They will also have a match up with the top seeded Buffalo Bandits late in the season for their second-to-last game, as they look to redeem themselves from an embarrassing early season 15-5 loss. New England will also face the bottom two teams in the East, Rochester twice and Philadelphia once. The Mammoth will play seven of their remaining nine games against teams from the West, including two against both, Saskatchewan and Vancouver.
Making things more interesting for the New England Black Wolves is the recent news that Callum Crawford has been suspended for six games following his hit on an unsuspecting Brad Kri late in their victory over Toronto last week. However, Crawford and the Professional Lacrosse Players Association have appealed the suspension so he will be eligible to play on Sunday afternoon against Colorado. Should the PLPA lose their appeal, the Black Wolves would lose the NLL’s leading scorer in goals and points for six of their remaining seven games after Sunday.
If the Black Wolves end up losing Crawford for an extended period of time they will need a number of players to step up their offensive games. Stephan Leblanc, the team’s second leading scorer, will need to take over the role of offensive leader. Leblanc has been one of the league’s hottest players, scoring 28 points (12G, 16A) in the last four games.
Also coming on as of late has been the Black Wolves trio of Reilly O’Connor, Tyler Digby, and rookie Dereck Downs. In the last five games, the trio has accounted for a total of 23 goals and 57 points. Downs has picked up a hat trick in two of the last three games and is second among NLL rookies with 13 goals.
Perhaps knowing that they will be losing Crawford for a period of time, the Black Wolves made a trade this week to further bolster their defensive side of the field. With defenseman John Lafontaine being put on injured reserve, New England acquired Mackenzie Mitchell from Vancouver in exchange for a 2022 third round draft pick.
The Black Wolves will also need to rely on their goaltending to keep this playoff push going through the second half. Lately, New England has been riding the hot hand with Doug Jamieson getting the bulk of playing time. Jamieson set a new career high with 47 saves against Toronto last Sunday. Jamieson has won his last two starts and only gave up 11 goals in each of those starts, a trend that will need to continue if the Black Wolves are to be successful. He has had a total of 90 saves on 112 shots in the last two games.
The Black Wolves and Mammoth will face-off at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.