Rock, Rush preparing for next round of NLL playoffs

The Canadian Press

5/10/2012 3:32:53 PM

The Toronto Rock are the beneficiaries for the second year in a row of an upset elimination of the Calgary Roughnecks from the National Lacrosse League playoffs.

Toronto was seeded behind Calgary, but has home floor for the Champion's Cup falling into its lap after the Rock dispatched Buffalo and the Roughnecks were upset by Edmonton in the first round.

Standing in the way are the Rochester Knighthawks, who'll trot into Toronto for the East final Saturday night after knocking off Philadelphia.

One year ago Toronto was back of the seeding line but got home floor for the title game after going into Buffalo and beating regular-season leader Buffalo in the East Division final. Then they lucked out with top overall seed Calgary losing the West final to Washington. The Rock then won the championship at home.

This year, Toronto swept Rochester 3-0 during the regular season, but Colin Doyle made sure to downplay expectations before reporters could ask about the record.

"Everything goes out the window before you ask," he said. "We've had their number as of late but this is obviously a team that has changed since we played them last.

"They are playing with confidence. They're doing something right because they're beating some good teams. We'll stick with what we do, grind it out and focus on what we do best and the results take care of themselves."

Toronto has won its last three games and is 6-1 since installing Nick Rose as No. 1 goaltender. Rochester has won its last two and has two-time NLL goalie of the year Matt Vinc, who was in the nets for Canada when it won the world indoor championship in Prague last May.

"I know they're a great team and they're proven that over the years," said Knighthawks captain Pat McCready. "They've had a great history and they've carried that on."

As for the mood of his team, McCready offers up one word: expectant.

"We're a young team and we know we have to go in and play a really disciplined and hard game and not make any mistakes to have a chance to win," he said. "We have to win all the little battles including loose balls and running to the bench.

"We have to stay very disciplined, keep the penalties to a minimum and, overall, just work hard."

Rochester would love to make amends for a 10-8 loss in Toronto in a first-round 2011 playoff game and go on to its first championship game appearance since winning in 2007, while Toronto's players are trying to be the first to win consecutive NLL titles since the 2002-2003 Rock.

Meanwhile, the Edmonton Rush will be in St. Paul for the West final Saturday night against the Minnesota Swarm, who advanced by upsetting the Colorado Mammoth for their fifth win in a row.

The teams met twice during the regular season, with each team winning at home in overtime and scoring 18 goals apiece. They've never met in playoffs previously, and neither team has won an NLL title.

Rookies comprise one half of the Minnesota lineup, and getting this far after so many roster changes earned John Arlotta the NLL award for GM of the year and Joe Sullivan the coach of the year honour.

"I know they're on a roll," said Rush transition player Steve Toll. "They're a young team that works very hard. We're just going to have to outwork them."

Edmonton had the poorest regular-season record (610) of any of the eight playoff hopefuls and knocking off No. 1 overall seed Calgary buoys confidence. The Rush have won five of their last eight games -- a turnaround that coincided with the signing of Toll.

"The key to winning (the division final) is not to allow Minnesota to go on runs," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get a couple of goals early and take the crowd out of it.

"We'll have to limit our mistakes and capitalize on their mistakes. I like our chances."

Rush goalie Aaron Bold has been among league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage all year.

"Aaron prepares for games so well, physically and mentally," said Rush forward Shawn Williams. "He's reaping the rewards for his work ethic. He's making the big saves when we need him to make them."

Minnesota has had success rotating Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson, a pair of rookies who have been superb in net. It's Carlson's turn to play this weekend but Kirk was so good last Saturday in Denver that coach Joe Sullivan has a tough decision to make.

"We have the utmost confidence in both," said Swarm captain Andrew Suitor. "They both play like starters and seasoned vets. We'll have his back, whoever it is."

Williams watched Suitor play junior in Orangeville, Ontario, and is full of praise of the Swarm captain.

"He's a great leader and he's brought his passion to the boys in Minnesota," says Williams. "They're all on side with him."

Suitor was asked to describe the mood of his team.

"We're definitely committed," he said. "I know we have to stick to our game plan and give Edmonton the utmost respect. These are two hot teams about to go at it. We're trying to keep level-headed. We don't want to let this opportunity slip away.

"We need to play a balanced game with a lot of transition and we have to capitalize on our opportunities."

There has never been an all-Canadian NLL final.