Winners of four of their last five games, the Rochester Knighthawks are the hottest team in the National Lacrosse League.
Coming into the final week of the regular season, the Knighthawks are 9-6 overall, but five of their losses have come against the top two teams in their division, Buffalo and Toronto. Rochester will have the chance to improve that mark when they head to Buffalo to play the Bandits (10-5) on Saturday.
“We are just looking for the same effort that we had the last few weeks,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “It will be a real good test because we haven’t been successful against Buffalo and we are still trying to get to where they are at, which is an elite team in this league and in this division. We are just trying to come in and matchup the best we can.”
Since the midway point of their season, the Knighthawks have scored at least 10 goals in every contest, except for their April 9 game against the Bandits, in which they lost 9-8. Also in that time period, Rochester has won by eight or more goals twice, 19-8 on April 2 versus Boston and 18-10 last week against Washington.
Hasen said he thinks the reason why his team’s offense has been playing so well is because his team is starting to gel together and have finally learned the coaches’ systems.
“We’ve had a lot of changes over this year from previous [years] and guys are getting used to each other and comfortable with each other while grasping what the coaching staff is trying to implement and do,” Hasen said.
During Wednesday’s league coaches conference call, Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour said playing the Knighthawks to finish the season will be a good warm up game for their upcoming playoff battle with Boston.
“Rochester is playing really well right now. They are very talented, very well coached and have great goaltending,” Kilgour said. “It is a great test going into the playoffs and will prepare us for the tough games we are going to face in the postseason.”
When the playoffs start on the weekend of April 29, the Bandits will take on the Boston Blazers in the first round and will surely want to deliver some payback from their 16-9 beat down Boston gave them last week.
“That game was so bad that you pretty much wipe it away and say, ‘We are not going to have the three faces of our game play that bad in one night again,’ at least I hope not,” Kilgour said. “[Goaltender] Mike [Thompson] didn’t have a great game, the defense was atrocious in front of him and the offense was very stagnant and didn’t create any scoring chances.”
Yet even with Buffalo’s upcoming playoff game against Boston looming, the Bandits are focusing on the Knighthawks, a club that has given them a hard fight in the two teams’ previous games this year.
“Rochester is one of our biggest rivals; we’ve always had trouble with them,” Kilgour said. “It is hard to beat a team in this league three times in a row. There are definitely challenges there and coming off of the debacle, which was Boston, we are definitely motivated.”
The Bandits will look for the season sweep of the Knighthawks on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.
Colorado Mammoth at Minnesota Swarm—Saturday, April 23, 8:30 p.m. EDT
The Minnesota Swarm are on the verge of accomplishing one of their goals that they set out for themselves prior to the 2011 season—hosting a playoff game.
Minnesota (7-8) will be able to accomplish that feat this weekend if they defeat the Colorado Mammoth at home. A win for the Swarm would give them the second seed in Western Division, and a home game in the first round against Washington. However, if Minnesota loses, Washington will be the second seed and will host the game.
“I think for our whole organization, I think it is important to have that home playoff game,” said Minnesota head coach Mike Lines. “It is something to strive for at the beginning of the year and was one of the goals that we had when we started. Our organization and fans deserve it and it is something that we are going to push forward to have.”
Although Colorado has a 5-10 overall record, they might be the most dangerous club when the postseason begins next weekend. The Mammoth are 4-2 in their last six games and are coming off a 11-7 victory over Calgary, the best team in the league.
“We are obviously thrilled by the position that we are in and how we played the last month,” said Colorado head coach Bob Hamley. “A month ago, people were writing us off. It is exciting for our group to be in the playoffs, but we still have a lot of work to do and we have to keep getting better as we move forward.”
In the last month, the Colorado offense has started to find their rhythm, as they have scored in double digits in four of their last five games.
“Our shooting on offense has been much better,” Hamley said. “We have found ways to score goals, which we didn’t do in the first half.”
The Mammoth have also been tough defensively as they have only given up 160 goals this season, the lowest in the Western Division and the fourth lowest in the league.
Minnesota has already won the season series against Colorado, but both games were close, as the Swarm pulled out a 12-10 victory on Feb. 20 and 11-10 overtime win on March 4.
Lines said he’s expecting another close game against an improved Mammoth squad in the Swarms first home game of the season series.
“The two games we played in Colorado were both tight,” Lines said. “They are vastly improved right now with the moves that they made in the offseason and at the trade deadline. It is just a matter of them now gelling together, and luckily for them it is coming together right before the playoffs, so I expect a tough challenge.”
Saturday’s game will begin at 8:30 p.m. EDT at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Both of this weekend’s games will be broadcasted live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.
Ron Knabenbauer is a National Lacrosse League Correspondent for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials.