Who Will Conquer The March To May?

The NLL’s March to May is in full swing! The trade deadline has now passed, with just four transactions involving movement of players and draft picks taking place. Only six weeks and 43 games remain in the regular season. However, with the new Unified Standings format, no team has yet clinched a playoff berth. Conversely, no team has been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. As a result, there are eight teams currently battling for the last four playoff seeds (#5 – #8). Let’s take a look at the challenge each team faces as they try to secure one of these playoff seeds.

Dolans Bar

Who Qualifies For May Right Now?

#5 Seed: Halifax Thunderbirds (7-6)

Remaining Games: Panther City, at Toronto, at Rochester, at Vancouver, Colorado (combined opponents record: 29-32)

The Thunderbirds appear to be in the midst of yet another late-season implosion. They have lost two straight, and shown a severe lack of discipline in the process. It’s entirely possible their current losing skid extends to five, requiring wins against the two last-place teams just to finish with a .500 record. Winning tiebreakers against Buffalo, New York, and Saskatchewan work in their favor. However, those could be offset by losing tiebreakers against Panther City, Calgary, and possibly Philadelphia, with whom they split overtime victories this year.

#6 Seed: Buffalo Bandits (6-6)

Remaining Games: Toronto, at Panther City, at Philadelphia, at Colorado, Calgary, at Las Vegas (combined opponents record: 34-39)

How dire are things in Banditland? A week after signing Connor Farrell to handle faceoffs (a major deficiency for them this year), they traded for veteran defender Paul Dawson to bolster the back end. It still may not be enough this week against the top team in the league despite being at home. The Bandits then go on the road for three games. While all of them are winnable, losses in any of these games would be doubly crippling, as some of those opponents look to leapfrog Buffalo and continue playing in May. As improbable as it seems, losses to both Toronto and to Calgary in Week 20 would give the Bandits a losing record at home.

#7 Seed: Panther City Lacrosse Club (6-6)

Remaining Games: at Halifax, Buffalo, at San Diego, Philadelphia, Albany, at Calgary (combined opponents record: 41-33)

Panther City also has their work cut out for them, with road games against Halifax (first ever meeting) and Calgary. They also meet Buffalo for the first time ever, and have revenge games against San Diego and Philadelphia. Head Coach Tracey Kelusky has been preaching all year about continuously improving as the season progresses. That philosophy will need to come to fruition if this hungry squad is to find themselves playing in May.

#8 Seed: New York Riptide (6-7)

Remaining Games: at Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, at Rochester, at Vancouver, Albany (combined opponents record: 22-24)

It has been an odd season for the Riptide, relocation news notwithstanding. More often than not, they seem to have won games they should have lost, and lost games they should have won. Given that logic and their remaining opponents, if they can somehow manage to sweep the home-and-home series with the Rush and beat a Vancouver team that may have thrown in the towel by Week 20, I believe they can secure their first ever playoff berth. Winning tiebreakers against Buffalo, Calgary, Georgia, and San Diego help their cause. Furthermore, trading a valuable first round pick to Philadelphia for Taggart Clark could give their offense a needed boost.

Philly Sports Trips Generic

Who Is Still Chasing The Chance To Play In May?

#9 Seed: Rochester Knighthawks (5-6)

Remaining Games: at Albany, at Colorado, Halifax, New York, at Toronto, at Georgia, Philadelphia (combined opponents record: 50-40)

Win 3, Lose 6, Win 2. If there’s one thing an NLL team doesn’t want, it’s to have runs of winning and losing streaks the same way they score or give up runs of goals within a game. Rochester is embodying that right now, but being among the highest scoring teams in the league can be enough to alter that dynamic to one that only involves winning from here on out. As daunting as the remaining road schedule looks, Rochester may be able to capitalize on Toronto and Georgia resting up players after locking in playoff berths weeks earlier, making the Knighthawks’ March to May slightly less difficult.

#10 Seed: Calgary Roughnecks (5-7)

Remaining Games: San Diego, Albany, Saskatchewan, at Saskatchewan, at Buffalo, Panther City (combined opponents record: 35-25)

In their first season under new Head Coach Josh Sanderson, the Roughnecks are still looking to get over the hump. On three separate occasions, they have found themselves at the .500 mark (0-0, 2-2, 5-5), and have promptly gone on losing streaks. Further complicating matters, they face two top teams in consecutive weeks before a home-and-home series against arguably their biggest rival. Time is running out for Calgary to figure out how to recapture the magic that set a franchise record for victories last season.

#11 Seed: Saskatchewan Rush (4-6)

Remaining Games: New York, at New York, at Georgia, at Philadelphia, at Calgary, Calgary, San Diego, Toronto (combined opponents record: 43-33)

We’ll start with the good news: the Rush have games in hand on all other teams in this discussion. Now for the bad news, which unfortunately comes in triplicate. First, their postponed game against Philadelphia got rescheduled such that Saskatchewan has a 15-day stretch in which they play five of their remaining games. Second, they still have two 2-game series to play, against teams that are also fighting to make it to May (New York, Calgary). Lastly, they finish their season with two of the top three teams in the league. Make no mistake, the Rush’s chances of making the playoffs are still decent. But one has to wonder what will be left in the tank should they actually make it to May.

#12 Seed: Philadelphia Wings (4-7)

Remaining Games: at Georgia, Vancouver, Saskatchewan, Buffalo, at Panther City, at Colorado, at Rochester (combined opponents record: 36-48)

Two more overtime goals in the Wings’ favor and they would be 6-5 right now. Keep in mind they also played San Diego to a one-goal loss. However, being ranked first in opponent shots allowed per game, while simultaneously ranking last in shots taken per game simply isn’t a sought-after recipe for winning. The offense needs to find a way around lengthy in-game scoring droughts to give themselves a shot a playing in May. The defense will need to find a way to cut down on opponent shots in order to steal two (or three or four) road games and have a realistic shot at the postseason.

“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk

“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk was formally introduced to box lacrosse when he attended a New England Black Wolves game on a whim in 2016. Instantly hooked, he has since become an avid follower of the National Lacrosse League. Following the postponement of the 2019-2020 NLL season, he was offered the chance to share his wealth of statistical knowledge and unique insights with the lacrosse community at large. He cheerfully accepted, and currently serves as Edge of Philly’s correspondent for both the Albany FireWolves and New York Riptide.