NLL Week 15: Boston Blazers and Buffalo Bandits Meet in Playoff Preview

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NLL Week 15: Boston Blazers and Buffalo Bandits Meet in Playoff Preview
Buffalo's Mark Steenhuis (right) gets past Boston's Ryan Hotaling (left) and dives through the crease while trying to score in a game earlier this season (Credit: Larry Palumbo).

Both the Boston Blazers and the Buffalo Bandits might be in the postseason, but that doesn’t mean they are going to take their matchup against one another lightly this weekend. 

The Bandits (10-4) will be battling for the top overall seed in the Eastern Division, a spot that the Toronto Rock looked to have locked up a few weeks ago. However, the Rock have faltered the last couple of weeks, losing three of their last four contests, and giving Buffalo the chance to clinch the number one seed. The Bandits only need to win one of their final two games or get a Toronto loss to Edmonton on Saturday to clinch the top spot in the East. 

For Boston (7-8) they are in the playoffs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have looked good doing it. The Blazers lost five games in a row, including not winning in the month of March and only clinching a playoff berth after grinding out a 9-7 victory last week against last place Philadelphia. 

"The best part about it was to see our dressing room, the emotion and the spirit in there after that win," said Boston head coach Matt Sawyer on the win against Philly. "We had a tough month. It was nice to see those guys experience some success and to be able to perform in a situation when they had to. They had no choice but to man-up and get the job done and they did." 

The Blazers will be playing their final game of their regular season and a victory against the best team in the East could do wonders for the team’s confidence.

"We need to go in there and play well," Sawyer said. "We realize that Buffalo has the opportunity to clinch the overall seed in the East, and if we are not prepared and not going out there with the mindset that we are going to win the game, it is probably not going to be pretty."

Saturday’s contest at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo might also be a prelude for the first round of the playoffs as Buffalo and Boston are on a collision course to play each other in the Eastern Division semifinals in two weeks.

With the matchup likely in the postseason, both teams will look for a good balance of not showing too much of their offense while still trying to win the game. 

"My concern is showing them too much," said Buffalo assistant general manager Derek Graham. "We're going to brainstorm on Friday night at practice, but at the end of the day, it's about getting the job done." 

Sawyer agreed that his team didn’t want to show too much, but at the same time his club needs to get into a rhythm before the two teams’ possible playoff date. 

"A very good chance that we're going to be playing Buffalo in the first round," Sawyer said. "As far as trying a few things out, we're going to stick to our game plan, it hasn't been sound enough where we can be afforded the opportunity to go out there and test a few things. 

"We need to build on the outing from Philadelphia and we need to see what we can do against a Buffalo team where we haven’t had much success."

Buffalo has already won the season series, defeating Boston 9-8 on Mar. 6 and 12-10 on Mar. 12, but Graham said the Blazers gave his Bandits squad a good fight until the end in both contests. 

"I think our record with Boston is not indicative of the team that they are and them finishing in fourth place," said Graham. "They gave us good games both times and [last place] Philly came into our barn and they beat us."

Saturday’s game will begin at 7:30 p.m. EDT and can be viewed on the NLL Network at NLL.com. 

Buffalo will close out their regular season on Apr. 23 at home against Rochester while Boston will begin to prepare for the postseason with their bye next week.

 

Now here is a look at the other four games in week 15 of the National Lacrosse League season.

Calgary Roughnecks at Colorado Mammoth – Friday Apr. 15, 9 p.m. EDT 

Now that the Calgary Roughnecks have clinched the number one seed in the Western Division, they turn their heads to the number one seed in the league. 

The Roughnecks (11-4) will have the chance to clinch the top seed in the National Lacrosse League with a win on Friday against the Colorado Mammoth (4-10) at the Pepsi Center in Denver. 

"We are going into one of the toughest buildings in the league to try to generate a win," said Calgary head coach Dave Pym. "We have a lot on the line to try and get that number one seed.” 

Friday’s game also has playoff implications for Colorado as a win against Calgary would secure the final postseason spot in the West, a position many in the league and the Denver community did not think they would be able to achieve. 

“We are focused on Friday's home game," said Colorado head coach Bob Hamley. "We are excited about the opportunity again. Not a lot of people gave us a chance to be in this position at this point in the season." 

Colorado can also clinch a playoff berth with an Edmonton loss to Toronto on Saturday.

 

Philadelphia Wings at Minnesota Swarm – Saturday Apr. 16, 8:30 p.m. EDT 

The Minnesota Swarm (6-8) are still fighting for the second seed in the postseason while the Philadelphia Wings (5-10) are starting to prepare for next year after being eliminated from playoff contention last weekend.

"We look at the Minnesota game as an opportunity to improve for next year," said head coach John Tucker. "We've already started that process. We have recognized our shortages and know where our needs sit. The good news is we had 18 new guys on our roster. Next year it will be a smaller number. It was a necessary building year for us but I think we laid a solid foundation for next season." 

The Swarm are going to the postseason and will be playing the defending champion Washington Stealth in the first round, but the only question left is who will be the home team? Minnesota needs wins in their final two games, and a Washington loss, to host the matchup with the Stealth when the playoffs begin the weekend of Apr. 29.

Minnesota head coach Mike Lines said he is going to use the game with the Wings to help the team prepare for a tough Stealth squad in the playoffs. 

"We're going to use this game to correct some of our wrongs from last week’s game," Lines said. "The team we'll be playing in the playoffs plays a different style than the Wings. We need to be prepared, and hash out some of the basics that we have to get back to after the past few games." 

Saturday’s game will begin at 8:30 p.m. EDT from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The Swarm will close out their regular season next week against the Colorado Mammoth while the Wings will end their year this weekend in Minnesota.

 

Toronto Rock at Edmonton Rush – Saturday Apr. 16, 9 p.m. EDT 

The Edmonton Rush (4-11) are keeping the hopes of a postseason berth alive but, in order to do that, they are going to have to beat a Toronto Rock (10-5) team that led the Eastern Division for the first 14 weeks of the season. 

"We've got to keep working at our principles, and try to create quality shots," said Edmonton head coach Derek Keenan of their game plan against the Rock. "We know we are going to face a really good defense and goaltending this week and we have to be prepared for that." 

Toronto looked like the favorite to win the Champions Cup all season, but the Rock have faltered down the stretch, losing their last two contests and three of their last four. 

"We're disappointed on our last two games and we have to right the ship here and get back to doing the things that made us successful," said Toronto general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson. "Saturday's a big game for us and we have to play well. We have full intention of doing that. There's a few things that we've let slip and we've got to right the ship here."

Toronto needs a win and for Buffalo to lose their final two games of the season in order to clinch the top seed from the East, while Edmonton needs a win and two Colorado losses to stay alive in the playoff race. Saturday’s game from Edmonton will be the final regular season game for both clubs. 

Saturday’s contest will be broadcasted live for Canadian viewers on TSN 2 while American viewers can watch the game on the NLL Network at NLL.com (Canadian blackout).

 

Rochester Knighthawks at Washington Stealth – Saturday Apr. 16, 10:30 p.m. EDT

The Rochester Knighthawks and the Washington Stealth will look to get into postseason shape when the two clubs battle each other on Saturday night at Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash. 

The Knighthawks (8-6) have won three of their last four games and split their games last weekend, losing 9-8 to Buffalo and 10-6 to Philadelphia. 

"We're happy with the way we played. It's good to see that we were able to grind out a win," said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen on beating Philadelphia. "The effort the entire weekend was there for us, which was real nice to see." 

Last weekend, Washington (8-7) played their third straight overtime game and came out as the winners in a 16-15 battle with the Minnesota Swarm. 

Rhys Duch scored the game-winning goal for Washington, but Lewis Ratcliff was the star of the game for the Stealth, scoring six goals while adding five assists, and scoring the game-tying goal with 20 seconds left in regulation. 

"Lewis has been fantastic," said Washington head coach Chris Hall of Ratcliff. "He is a phenomenal lacrosse player and has always done everything we've asked him to do and more. He was a man on a mission last weekend. He willed the ball into the net there to get the tying goal." 

Saturday’s game will be the final contest of the regular season for Washington before they prepare for Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. Rochester will close out their season before they head to the playoffs next weekend in Buffalo. 

All five week 15 National Lacrosse League games will be broadcasted live on the NLL Network at NLL.com (Canadian blackout may apply).

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