The NLL playoffs resume on Saturday when the Minnesota Swarm travel to Rochester to take on the Knighthawks in the Divisional Final at Blue Cross Arena. The Swarm haven’t won there since January 26th, 2008 when they squeaked out an 18-17 overtime victory in a hard fought regular season battle. Although that was only five years ago, not one single member of either of those 2008 squads remains and it will be two completely different teams fighting it out this weekend.
The Swarm are coming off a crushing 20-11 win over the first overall Toronto Rock while the Knighthawks were not so convincing in their 10-8 victory over the Philadelphia Wings.
Minnesota pounded on Toronto for sixty straight minutes and played their best game of 2013. The Swarm have elevated to another level since losing their captain Andrew Suitor to a season ending injury in week 6 and although they finished the regular season in 8th place they’ve been the hottest team in the National Lacrosse League.
Sophomore Jordan MacIntosh has been Minnesota’s most improved player and was just named the NLL’s Transition Player of the Year. He only has four more points than he did in his 2012 rookie season but his all around game is far superior than it was last year. MacIntosh is always aware of his surroundings and his smart play this season has made everyone around him better. He’s shooting the ball a lot more too which is good to see as it shows he has more confidence in his game. Although he has a great supporting cast it’s unlikely that the Swarm would have made it this far without MacIntosh in their lineup.
Tyler Carlson has also played a huge role in Minnesota’s success and at times has carried this team on his shoulders. He had his best game of the year last weekend in Toronto and stole the show on several occasions in that win. He made some big saves early on which gave his team lots of confidence in that quarter final and allowed them to slow the game down and pick their spots. His teammates were able to relax on offence and not worry about rushing the ball; they made smart plays and scored some amazing goals last weekend. Carlson made 54 saves versus the Rock and was the game’s first star; if he plays like that on Saturday it’s tough to imagine that the Swarm will be defeated.
Rochester has had an up and down season this year and you never know what team is going to show up for them. One night they’ll looked unbeatable and then the next they’ll lose to Buffalo.
Brad Self has been the most consistent Knighthawk this season and has shown up to play his best every single night. Self has really honed his defensive skills as of late and has been brilliant at anticipating his opponent’s next move. He has intercepted several key passes late in the game when his team was up by just a goal or two. He has one of the highest lacrosse IQ’s of any player and a passion for the game that you can’t teach.
The Knighthawks also boast the best goalie in the pro lacrosse. Matt Vinc was named the team’s Most Valuable Player earlier this week and his 10.17 Goals Against Average was the best in the league. When his team had a bad game Vinc was able to pick up the slack and steal a few victories for Rochester this season. Saturday’s game is going to be a goaltenders dual unlike any other matchup we’ve seen this year.
Both teams will have to play a full sixty minutes if they want to claim victory; any moment of lapse from either side could cost their team the chance of playing for the Champion’s Cup the following weekend. This game will full of hard hitting action mixed with skilled finesse and incredible goaltending; the fans at Blue Cross Arena are definitely in for a treat.