Now that the dust has settled on the 2015 NLL regular season, where do the teams stand headed into National Lacrosse League playoffs in pursuit of the Champion’s Cup? Brian Shanahan has released his NLL Power Rankings after Week 18 on IL Indoor with the postseason getting underway this weekend. With Toronto and Edmonton waiting in the wings with first-round byes, Buffalo visits Rochester on Friday and Colorado hosts Calgary on Saturday for the single-elimination Division Semifinal games.
“Well it’s here. Week 18, the final weekend of the National Lacrosse League regular season has come and gone and the conversations will quickly turn to playoff matchups,” Shanahan writes. “It seems like it was just yesterday when the season started. Eighteen weeks ago, the season started with Edmonton, Rochester and Calgary each losing their first two games (Calgary actually lost its first 6), and New England Minnesota and Vancouver winning.
Although Week 18 ended with Minnesota upsetting the Rochester Knighthawks one more time, it only took a few weeks of NLL action in 2015 before order was restored and the perennial powerhouses (Rochester, Edmonton ) started winning. It took a while longer for the Calgary Roughnecks to find their game. They started the year with a sloppy home loss to Vancouver but ended it with a playoff style win in Vancouver.
Among the playoff contenders, the Toronto Rock were the most consistent team throughout the season, although we saw their game drop a notch after they lost Rob Hellyer. It’s now time to see which team can crank up its game for the second season, the one that really counts. But before we do, let’s check out the Power Rankings one last time.
1) Edmonton Rush (13-5): The Edmonton Rush defeated the Colorado Mammoth 13-10 to finish their regular season with 4 straight wins. They also finished the season with 4 wins against the Colorado Mammoth while splitting their 4 games against Calgary. They’ll never admit it but I would bet they will prefer to meet Colorado rather than Calgary when they start their playoffs in two weeks.
2) Toronto Rock (14-4): The Toronto Rock looked anything but sharp in their 10-7 victory over the New England Black Wolves on Friday but the win clinched first place for the Toronto Rock. The Rock welcomed both Rob Hellyer and Colin Doyle back in the lineup but with seven offensive players (they used 6 all year), Toronto could not find much offensive chemistry. Josh Sanderson quietly put up 2 goals and 3 assists to finish the season with 102 points and a record-breaking 83 assists. Toronto will have two weeks to try to find the offensive magic that was so impressive early in the season. They’ll wait for the winner of the Rochester Buffalo playoff game next week.
3) Rochester Knighthawks (12-6): Toronto was not the only team that looked flat this weekend as the Rochester Knighthawks lost to the Minnesota Swarm for the second time this season, by a final score of 13-12 in overtime. Next week the Knighthawks will host the Buffalo Bandits for a do or die playoff game. For the past three years, Rochester was a team that could turn its game up a notch when needed. Let’s see if the three-time NLL champion can do it again.
4) Buffalo Bandits (11-7): The Buffalo Bandits defeated the New England Black Wolves 20-10 on Saturday and with 57 goals in the last three games, the Bandits enter the playoffs as one of the NLL’s highest scoring and hottest teams. On the flip side, you could argue that Buffalo enters the playoffs after playing their last 6 games against weaker non-playoff teams. Next week, the Bandits will travel to Rochester for their do or die playoff game.
5) Colorado Mammoth (9-9): The Colorado Mammoth lost to the Edmonton 13-10 on Saturday. They will open their playoffs in Colorado next week as they host the Calgary Roughnecks.
6) Calgary Roughnecks (7-11): It wasn’t easy but the Calgary Roughnecks are in the playoffs. After spending most of the season climbing out of the hole created by an 0-6 start, the Riggers’ playoff lives still depended on their last game of the season. Once again the Roughnecks relied on the offense of Shawn Evans and Curtis Dickson to carry them to a victory. Now that it is in, Calgary can be a pretty scary team. They’ll get a chance to prove that when they start in Denver next weekend.
7) Vancouver Stealth (5-12): Although they did not make the playoffs, the Vancouver Stealth essentially gave the 4,833 fans at the Langley Event Centre a playoff game when they played their guts out in a 14-13 loss to the Calgary Roughnecks. Vancouver has to make some improvements to become a playoff team but at least it ended its season with some excitement.
8) Minnesota Swarm (6-12): The Minnesota Swarm ended their 2015 season on a positive note as they defeated the Rochester Kighthawks 13-12 in overtime. The win was Minnesota’s second win over the three time champion Knighthawks this season.
9) New England Black Wolves (4-14): The New England Black Wolves almost played spoiler to the Toronto Rock on Friday (10-7 loss) but had nothing left for their Saturday game in Buffalo as they were defeated 20-10 by the Buffalo Bandits. They’ll now have the offseason to decide how they can build a contender around players like Garrett Billings and Andrew Suitor.