Only four teams remain in the National Lacrosse League playoffs following an exciting Round 1.
The Calgary Roughnecks soundly defeated the Colorado Mammoth and the Washington Stealth came back from a huge first-half deficit to beat the Edmonton Rush to set up the West Division final.
The top seed in the NLL, the Toronto Rock, were upset in their own house, taking a 20-11 pummeling at the hands of a young, hungry Minnesota Swarm team. The Rochester Knighthawks outlasted the Philadelphia Wings to keep the dream of a repeat performance in the Champion's Cup alive, and, with Toronto out of the picture, the Knighthawks are now the top seed in the East.
Washington Stealth at Calgary Roughnecks
The Stealth and Roughnecks finished the regular season in a three-way tie with the Edmonton Rush with identical 9-7 records; the Roughnecks collected the top seed through the tie-breaker (their record against the Stealth and Rush was better than what the other two teams could muster).
Washington, nevertheless, won the season series against the Roughnecks 2-1. Interestingly, the total margin of victory in the series was just a single goal—each team earned a two-goal victory and Washington won the rubber match by one.
Rhys Duch, as usual, led the way for the Stealth last weekend with four goals and two assists. His 96 regular-season points were third best in the NLL and his 45 goals led the league.
At the other end of the floor, Tyler Richards won the game MVP last weekend. He turned aside 41 shots while adding three assists, giving Washington a boost with big saves and key plays on transition.
Calgary dominated their game against Colorado last weekend in every aspect of the game. They had 12 more shots on goal, 14 more loose balls collected and forced six more turnovers en route to a five-goal margin of victory.
They were powered by former league MVP Jeff Shattler, who had a seven-point night. Hat tricks were scored by Shattler, Shawn Evans and Scott Ranger.
Goaltender Mike Poulin also performed well, stopping 32 shots against just eight goals allowed.
As their records suggest, these are two extremely closely matched teams; this game could come down to the very last possession. Still, I have to side with the Roughnecks for the 13-12 win.
Minnesota Swarm at Rochester Knighthawks
The Knighthawks are seeking their second straight NLL championship and are well on the way after beating Philadelphia last weekend. Next they host the Minnesota Swarm, a team that won four of their last six regular-season games to earn their spot in the postseason.
Including last weekend, the Swarm have scored 20 or more goals three times in their last six games. In that time, they've been averaging 17.5 goals per game and haven't been held under 13.
Callum Crawford and Ryan Benesch have paced the Swarm offense all season. Crawford was fifth in the NLL with 95 points while missing two games due to injury; Benesch picked up 84 points and his nine-point night against Toronto last weekend was tops in the game.
Jordan MacIntosh has also come into his own this year. The sophomore transition was awarded with the NLL's Transition Player of the Year award this week on the strength of his 55 points, 197 loose balls and 241 faceoff wins.
Tyler Carlson did a great job between the pipes for Minnesota last weekend, making 54 saves in the win and the game MVP award. Rochester will have a tough time trying to beat him if he stays hot.
But the Knighthawks have a star goaltender of their own. Matt Vinc won the Goaltender of the Year award this week. He led the NLL in goals-against average this year at 10.17 and set a league record for saves with 662. This is his third time winning the award, making him the only goalie in NLL history to pick up that trophy three times.
Former league MVP Dan Dawson was the big producer on offense for the Knighthawks last weekend, scoring four times and adding two assists while four players contributed three points each.
One of the age-old questions in sports is whether good offense beats good defense or vice versa; this game is a perfect example with the best defensive team in the NLL facing the second-highest scoring lineup. My gut feeling is that Minnesota's offense won't be denied in this contest. I'm expecting a 12-11 win for the Swarm and their first trip to a Champion's Cup game.
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