After 12 weeks, the National Lacrosse League playoff picture still is a bit of a crap-shoot.
Week 13 features five games and they all have playoff implications as a result of how tight everything is.
The Toronto Rock remain in first place overall, but their lead has shrunk following a loss to the red-hot Edmonton Rush last weekend.
The Rush have moved into sole possession of first place in the West after winning a pair on the road. They've now won five in a row and have earned a much-deserved week off.
At the other end of the scale, the Colorado Mammoth are sitting in ninth place overall and would not make the playoffs if the season ended today. They need to get hot right now if they hope to overtake the Minnesota Swarm for that last post-season spot.
Buffalo Bandits (5-7) at Toronto Rock (8-4)
The Bandits are plummeting after dropping four straight games and need to start picking up wins again to solidify their playoff odds.
Buffalo is only averaging nine goals per game during their current slump and need to do a better job of putting balls in the net.
On the other end, the Bandits are also giving up more than 13 goals per game of late and that needs to tighten up as well.
Toronto took one on the chin last weekend, losing by five to the Edmonton Rush. They haven't lost two in a row yet this year and will be looking to bounce back against the Bandits.
The Rock have only been held under 10 goals in a game once this year, back on January 19, and have averaged 13 goals per game over their last four, so their offense continues to look solid.
If goalie Nick Rose can bounce back from a rough outing last weekend, Toronto should be in good shape to take this one.
Toronto and Buffalo have split their season series so far, but I'm expecting the Rock to win this rubber match and maintain their status as top dog in the NLL. Look for a 13-11 Toronto victory.
Philadelphia Wings (5-5) at Minnesota Swarm (4-7)
This is a game with serious playoff implications. If the Wings win both their games this weekend, they lock up a playoff spot; if the Swarm lose, they could drop into the ninth spot overall and out of the playoff picture.
Philly has lost two in a row to two of the best teams in the NLL—the Toronto Rock and the Washington Stealth. Playing back-to-back games this weekend against two of the bottom three in the league gives them an opportunity to solidify their playoff hopes.
The Wings have the lowest-scoring offense in the league right now, picking up just 10.5 goals per game. The Kevins—Crowley, Buchanan and Ross—are their top three scorers and need to step up their games even more to get Philadelphia back on track.
Minnesota earned a decisive win over Washington last weekend, holding the Stealth to just five goals, the lowest score of the season.
If their defense can maintain the pressure and keep the goals-against down, they have a shot. But without team captain Andrew Suitor, who is injured, that remains a big challenge.
I'm expecting a close contest, but I'm think the Swarm to will pull out the 13-12 win in front of a home crowd.
Toronto Rock (8-4) at Rochester Knighthawks (4-6)
On Saturday, the Rock travel to Rochester for their second contest of the weekend, a first-versus-worst matchup.
There may be some fatigue showing on Toronto's roster, especially after playing a Buffalo team on Friday that is notoriously physical. Nevertheless, they have a potent offense with a ton of options and only need a couple of them to be producing to make them as dangerous as any team in the league.
The Knighthawks are battling to stay in the playoff picture after winning the Champion's Cup last season. After losing three of their last four, they dealt Casey Powell in a trade deadline move and added veteran defenseman Jon Sullivan.
The moves solidify an already solid defensive corps and might even give the offense a boost as more minutes become available for the rest of the scorers.
With Rochester playing at home for their playoff lives, I'm expecting them to dig down deep and find a way to win this one. I'm looking for a 12-11 Knighthawks win.
Philadelphia Wings (5-5) at Colorado Mammoth (4-8)
After their Friday tilt in Minnesota, the Wings travel to Denver to take on the Colorado Mammoth.
The Mammoth have had a bit of a resurgence since swapping out their goaltenders, having now won two of their last three. If Tye Belanger can continue to perform, the always-dangerous Mammoth offense will have a chance to get this squad back in the playoff hunt.
Casey Powell seems to be fitting in nicely in his new home, having scored 10 points in two games since coming to Colorado from Rochester. As a team, The Mammoth have averaged 14 goals per game since Powell arrived.
Philly is a young enough team so that fatigue shouldn't be much of a factor in this two-game road trip, but you might see No. 1 goalie Brandon Miller get the night off and backup Kevin Croswell get the start between the pipes.
With Colorado looking much better of late, I have to once again go with the home-town squad. I'm calling this one a 12-11 Mammoth win.
Calgary Roughnecks (7-5) at Washington Stealth (7-5)
The winner of this game moves into a first-place tie with the Edmonton Rush in the West.
Calgary has been scoring goals like they're going out of style this year. They already have 172 this year and are averaging almost one goal per game more than anyone else in the NLL. Shawn Evans leads the league with 82 points, while Dane Dobbie and Curtis Dickson are already over 30 goals scored each.
Consequently, the Roughnecks are on a modest two-game winning streak. If Mike Poulin continues to look as good as he did in last weekend's 12-11 overtime win against Colorado, the team's goaltending concerns might also be a thing of the past.
Washington will be looking for a bounce-back game after getting shut down by Minnesota last weekend. Their five goals against the Swarm were the fewest in any NLL game this year and the second time the Stealth have been held to six or fewer this season.
Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci will be called upon to deliver big in this game to match up against Calgary's vaunted offense.
Of course, it wouldn't be a proper discussion of the Stealth-Roughnecks matchup without mentioning the battle of the brothers Snider. Geoff of the Roughnecks and Bob of the Stealth are the league's top two faceoff men. While Geoff usually seems to get the best of his little brother, it's always an epic battle on every draw between these two.
Washington beat Calgary in February and so they have a stranglehold on the season series. If they can win this one as well, they win their three-game set and will have the advantage in a tie-breaker situation should these two teams remain deadlocked at the end of the regular season.
I'm going to go with the goals and expect to see Calgary outscore Washington 14-12.
Follow me on Twitter: @calgaryjimbo
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