Only two weeks remain in the 2016 NLL regular season with two postseason spots left and teams still positioning themselves in the standings for a run at the Champion’s Cup. Which clubs are heating up at the right time? Preview Brian Shanahan’s NLL Power Rankings after Week 16 on IL Indoor below for a breakdown of the playoff race and road to the championship.
“Who is the hottest team in the National Lacrosse League? Would you believe the Georgia Swarm?” Shanahan writes.
The Swarm followed last weekend’s shocking 17-10 win over the Colorado Mammoth with equally impressive 16-9 and 17-11 victories over the New England Black Wolves and Rochester Knighthhawks. Not only do those wins put the Swarm ahead of the Rochester Knighthawks for the last playoff position but Georgia’s win against Rochester gives the Swarm the season series and tie breaker should the teams tie for third place.
Saskatchewan had an equally hot weekend, sweeping the Colorado Mammoth by scores of 11-5 and 11-8 to clinch first place in the West Division.
In other games, the Toronto Rock got spectacular goaltending from Nick Rose on Friday as the Toronto Rock put in a gutsy effort to give the Buffalo Bandits their first loss in 6 games by defeating them, 12-9. However, the clock struck 12 for the Rock on Saturday as Buffalo won 14-8 to officially knock out the Toronto Rock from the playoffs.
In the only other game of the weekend, the Vancouver Stealth also put in a gutsy effort as they defeated the Calgary Roughnecks 13-12 to stave off playoff elimination for at least one more week.
For the second week in a row, we have a new leader in the Power Rankings. Check it out.
1) Saskatchewan Rush (12-4) (+3): On Friday, the Rush broke open a 5-4 fourth quarter lead in Colorado by scoring 6 straight goals, including 3 in 61 seconds. The final was 11-5. Saturday’s game in Saskatoon was similar as the Rush scored 5 straight third quarter goals to break open a 6-6 tie and eventually won the game 11-8 in front a sold out Sasktel Centre. With first place locked up, Saskatchewan’s next home game will be the second round of the playoffs but they will finish off the regular season with games in Vancouver and Rochester. Two wins will guarantee first overall in the NLL and home floor advantage for the rest of the playoffs.
2) Buffalo Bandits (11-5) (-1): On Friday the Bandits ran into a very determined Toronto Rock team at the ACC. Toronto held Dhane Smith to just 1 goal and 1 assist as they lost to the Rock, 11-9. Dhane Smith and the Bandits were back on form on Saturday as the Bandits built a 9-3 first-half lead and Smith scored 5 goals. While it still looks like Smith should easily break Shawn Evans’ 130-point record, we are no longer talking about obliterating it. He also needs 8 goals in his last two games to break Athan Iannucci’s 71-goal record. The Buffalo Bandits have two games left: in Rochester next week and home to New England in two weeks. Both games could have huge playoff implications and it’s possible that the game against New England could determine first place.
3) Colorado Mammoth (10-6) (-1): The Mammoth are on a three-game losing streak after losing both games to the Saskatchewan Rush this weekend, including their first home loss of the season. The Mammoth will finish the regular season with two home games against the Toronto Rock and Vancouver Stealth and most likely will be starting the playoffs against the Calgary Roughneck’s in 3 weeks.
4) New England Black Wolves (9-6) (-1): The Black Wolves found out that Georgia’s 17-10 win over Colorado last week was not a one-and-done fluke. The Wolves fell behind 11-4 in the first half and eventually lost by 16-9. The Wolves are safely in a playoff spot but could still take a shot at first place. Next week they host Georgia and then finish their regular season with games against Rochester and Buffalo the last weekend of the season.
5) Georgia Swarm (7-9) (+2): Not only are the Georgia Swarm back from the dead, they look like they are in peak shape for the home stretch. They defeated the New England Black Wolves 16-9 on Friday and Rochester Knighthawks 17-11 on Saturday. Saturday’s victory gave the Swarm the season series on Rochester, meaning that the Knighthawks have to win at least two games in their last three to have a chance at third place. However, Georgia’s destiny is now in its own hands and it finishes the regular season with games in New England next week and at home to Vancouver the final weekend of the regular season.