National Lacrosse League 2012: Round 1 Previews and Predictions
Following an exciting final weekend of the NLL regular season, the playoff picture is now set.
It is a rare season in any sport when a record is broken, even in a relatively young league like the NLL. But several records were set during the 2012 campaign, making it one for the ages.
John Grant Jr. broke the single-season scoring record, picking up his 116th point late in the final game of the season. He managed the feat in only 14 games, which seems appropriate, since the old record of 115 points was set during a 14-game season by John Tavares in 2001.
Garrett Billings broke the record for most assists in a season, finishing with 84 and blowing away the previous record of 74, jointly held by Dan Dawson and Josh Sanderson. Billings' 114 total points on the season fell just shy of tying the previous record.
Bob Snider broke the record for most faceoffs won in a season, winning 319 draws and moving past the 318 recorded by both Peter Jacobs and Bob's older brother Geoff.
Edmonton's Shawn Williams shattered the iron-man record, having now played in 196 consecutive games. By the time he's done, he may have set the bar so high, no one will ever challenge it.
The second season, where the regular-season records don't matter, opens Friday night. All that matters is winning. You have to win three straight to earn the Champion's Cup. Anything less just sends you home.
Time to pick your favorites and start cheering!
Philadelphia Wings (7-9) at Rochester Knighthawks (7-9)
Rochester ran the table against Philadelphia in the regular season, going 3-0 against the Wings. Additionally, the Knighthawks won two of their last three in the regular season, including a 9-7 win over Philly last weekend.
The Wings, on the other hand, have lost their last five and are averaging a paltry 9.6 goals per game in that stretch.
Clearly, the momentum favors the 'Hawks.
As they have all year, the Wings will be looking to Dan Dawson (103 points) and rookie Kevin Crowley (36 goals) to pace the offense, but they need their secondary scorers to step up to keep them competitive.
On the defensive side, Brodie Merrill was once again among the league leaders in loose balls and Steve Holmes had a very solid 18 forced turnovers on the year.
Cody Jamieson powered the Rochester offense, leading the team with 36 goals and 85 points. With four other players who topped 20 goals on the season, the Knighthawks have several scoring options.
Brad Self had a solid year on defense, forcing 20 turnovers.
When all is said and done, Rochester has simply had Philadelphia's number all year long. All signs point to a 13-11 Knighthawks win.
Buffalo Bandits (7-9) at Toronto Rock (9-7)
The Rock finished the season strong. They won five of their last six games and seem to be in very good position to go deep in the playoffs.
Buffalo dropped six in a row early in the season and was looking completely overwhelmed at times. Nevertheless, the Bandits got things back on track in the home stretch, winning three of their last four going into the postseason.
The Bandits beat Toronto twice in their three meetings, which adds a little extra intrigue to the equation. Moreover, Toronto's five wins down the stretch were all against teams with winning percentages under .500—its only loss in that period came against the only above .500 team they faced.
With Buffalo looking like it has things sorted out, this could bode poorly for the defending NLL champs.
On offense, Garrett Billings had a career year for Toronto, setting a team record for most points in a year (114) and a league record for most assists (82). On the other bench, John Tavares didn't set any records, but his 41 goals were good for second best in the league, with teammate Luke Wiles right behind him with 39.
Between the pipes, we'll have a battle between a seasoned veteran and an up-and-comer.
In his 12th season in the NLL, Anthony Cosmo has come on strong for the Bandits in the late going, giving up just 10 goals per game in his last four.
After coming to Toronto midseason, Nick Rose was handed the starting role for the first time in his two-year career and he has flourished in that position, posting a strong 10.69 goals against average in six games.
All things being equal, I'd say this is anyone's game to win or lose. However, I'm going to play the percentages and predict a 13-12 win for the Rock.
Minnesota Swarm (9-7) at Colorado Mammoth (11-5)
Last weekend, the Swarm beat the Mammoth as the two teams tuned up for their first-round playoff matchup. It was the fourth straight win for Minnesota and the second straight loss for Colorado, setting the tone for what should be a very hotly contested game on Saturday night.
Minnesota has been white hot of late, perfect timing for a team looking to make a deep run in this year's playoffs. They have scored 58 goals in their last four games, getting a goal better every week. On the other end of the floor, they've only given up 41 goals, so the defense is looking as good as the offense.
Things don't look quite so rosy in Colorado. After opening the season 6-0, they've cooled off at the end of the schedule, going just 3-4 in the home stretch.
The good news for the Mammoth is that John Grant Jr. is still the most dangerous man in the NLL, having broken the league's single-season scoring record with 116 points.
The bad news is that Grant's last three games were his three worst of the year. Additionally, team captain Gavin Prout hasn't played since being injured on April 14 against the Toronto Rock.
Callum Crawford (83 points) and Ryan Benesch (72 points) are once again the heavy hitters in the Swarm offense and the main reasons for the offensive explosion Minnesota has enjoyed of late.
But the big story in Minny this year has been the exceptional play of their rookie goaltenders. Tyler Carlson (12.04 GAA) has been very good. Evan Kirk, with a league-leading 9.81 goals against, has been great and has a legitimate shot at the Rookie of the Year award.
Colorado won the season series against Minnesota 2-1, but those two wins came early on when the Mammoth could do no wrong and the Stealth were still trying to find their way.
If Prout finds his way back into the Mammoth lineup, he should provide the boost the team needs to get back on track. If he isn't ready, I'm expecting Minnesota to continue on its winning ways. I'm looking for a 13-12 win for the Swarm.
Edmonton Rush (6-10) at Calgary Roughnecks (12-4)
For the second straight year, the Roughnecks finished the season with the best record in the NLL. Over and above that, they have won 10 straight games against the Edmonton Rush.
Edmonton is celebrating after earning just its second playoff berth in franchise history.
Defense is going to be at the forefront of this game. In this respect, the two teams are pretty evenly matched. Calgary finished the season with the fewest goals against in the NLL, with 170 goals surrendered. Edmonton finished a close second with only 175 goals against.
The difference lies in the offensive end.
Calgary finished with the second-most goals scored, with 216, while the Rush had the worst offense in the league, scoring just 167 goals.
Roughnecks goalie Mike Poulin missed the last two games of the regular season with an ankle injury after having a stellar season and posting an excellent 10.27 goals-against average.
If he still can't go in the first round, the duties will fall to rookie Frankie Scigliano, who earned an equally impressive 10.70 GAA. Scigliano had an outstanding start in the Roughnecks' last game of the year, holding the Rush to just six goals on 44 shots.
Aaron Bold should be between the pipes for Edmonton. He has also had an outstanding year, with a 10.47 goals against average.
Both teams will have to capitalize on every scoring chance if they hope to succeed against these tough goalies. Unfortunately for Edmonton, the Roughnecks have a ton of weapons and the Rush, well, they don't. I'm expecting to see a 12-10 win for Calgary.
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