NLL Week 10: Battle for First in the West and Rematch in Buffalo

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NLL Week 10: Battle for First in the West and Rematch in Buffalo
Boston's Dan Dawson (left) looks to pass the ball past Buffalo's Scott Self in last Sunday's game in Boston (Credit: Larry Palumbo).

It will be a light week in the National Lacrosse League as only two games will be played, but both contests should be exciting as all four teams in action are in a race for first place in their respective divisions.

On Saturday, Boston will travel to Buffalo for a rematch of last week’s game while on Sunday, Washington will host Calgary in the rubber match of their season series.

Both games will be broadcasted live on the NLL Network at NLL.com. Now, here is a look at week 10 in the National Lacrosse League.

 

Boston Blazers at Buffalo Bandits: Saturday Mar. 12th, 7:30 p.m. EST

The Buffalo Bandits had plenty of excuses to not show up on the field in last Sunday’s game against the Boston Blazers. Instead, they played some of their best lacrosse of the season.

Playing the day before against Rochester, Buffalo was late the entire day because of a delay at the airport. However, that delay didn’t correspond to their play on the floor early on as they took an 8-4 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The only negative part of the Bandits' game last week came in the fourth when the Blazers tied the game at nine with four-straight goals in the first six minutes of the quarter.

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Luckily, Clay Hill scored with four minutes remaining to give Buffalo the late lead and eventually the victory.

“We were pretty tired by the late-fourth quarter,” said Buffalo assistant coach Rich Kilgour. “When you are tired, you do some funny things. I think we played a big part in Boston coming back on us in us being physically and mentally tired.”

While the fourth quarter was a negative for the Bandits, Blazers head coach Matt Sawyer is looking at it as a positive in that his team battled back and tied the game early in the stanza.

Boston had two weeks off prior to Sunday’s game and was well rested. However, the problem might have been that they were too well rested as they looked out of rhythm on the field for the first 45 minutes.

Sawyer will be looking for a full 60-minute effort this weekend as the Blazers and Bandits face each other in a rematch on Saturday in Buffalo.

“We’ll need a better effort, start to finish,” Sawyer said. “We realize that we will need to be better if we want to come out of Buffalo with a victory.

“Our performance needs to change and it is quite obvious that we came out flat. We had six shots on goal in the first quarter and I think we had 14 by the half.”

The Blazers failure to get good scoring chances isn’t necessarily their fault as they were facing a good Buffalo defense led by a hot goaltender in Mike Thompson.

Thompson was an important part in the Bandits' two wins last week and he earned the NLL Overall Player of the Week Award for his efforts.

Late in Sunday’s game, Boston had two breakaway chances on net and fired a couple of good shots in the final minutes, but Thompson held strong in goal, finishing the night with 27 saves.

“We won and got out of there with two points, but Boston was right there and who knows what would have happened if he didn’t come up with those saves down the stretch,” Kilgour said of Thompson.

Both Buffalo and Boston can make up some ground in the Eastern Division this week with Toronto being inactive. The Bandits (6-3) sit in second place in the East, two games behind the Rock while the Blazers (6-4) are two-and-a-half games back and in third place.

The Bandits and the Blazers will face each other one more time this year in the final regular season game on Apr. 16th in Buffalo.

 

Calgary Roughnecks at Washington Stealth: Sunday Mar. 13th, 8 p.m. EDT

Although the Washington Stealth have only won two games in a row, they might be the hottest team in the league after outscoring their opponents 38-17 in those games.

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After losing a couple of key players to injuries to start the season, the 2011 Stealth are starting to look a lot like the 2010 version of themselves in which they led the league with 211 goals and won the Champions Cup.

Washington currently leads the NLL in goals with 133. However, their trouble has come on the defensive end, as they’ve given up 128 red-lighters, the most among the eight teams in position to make the playoffs.

Nevertheless, the defense has been playing better as of late with goaltender Tyler Richards leading the charge. Richards made 44 saves last week against Edmonton and has the highest save percentage among goalies in the Western Division.

Washington has alternated between Richards and Matt Roik in the past, but Richards has received most of the playing time after some solid performances in net.

“We’ve gotten away from alternating,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “Tyler was hurt to begin the year so Matt got a lot of consecutive games in, but since Tyler has come back, he’s been playing well. It’s the old story, when things are going well, why change? We’ll ride Tyler until things turnaround, and hopefully they don’t because Tyler has been playing great.”

The Stealth sit at 5-5 overall and third place in the West—just a game-and-a-half behind the first-place Calgary Roughnecks (6-3). Washington can put more pressure on the Riggers with a win against them this week.

Calgary and Washington have split their season series so far with both teams winning in the others' barn. The Roughnecks will hope for the same luck at Comcast Arena as they had last time, which ended in a Calgary 13-11 win on Jan. 9th.

However, Calgary and Washington are two different teams since that week one matchup.

During Wednesday’s league conference call, Roughnecks head coach Dave Pym gave the Stealth a lot of praise as his team will try to find a way past Richards and the Washington defense and slow down the Stealth offense this weekend.

“With the Stealth, like a lot of teams, it starts with their goaltending, and when they get good goaltending, they’ve got an incredible athletic and dynamic defense that gets the ball up the floor and puts it into the hands of what I think is probably the most dynamic and effective offense in the league,” Pym said. “We’ve got our hands full and it will be a great challenge to see where we are at.”

Calgary have been the most solid of the Western teams this season, especially recently with them winning four of their last five contests. Their only loss in this time period came on Feb. 12th when they were defeated 9-8 in overtime against the league-leading Toronto Rock.

The Roughnecks have a tough final six games and if they can get a victory against the red-hot Stealth, it will surely give them momentum to finish the year strong and give them more breathing room in the Western standings.

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