Five teams in the National Lacrosse League have five wins as the season enters its final three weeks. Four of them will qualify for the playoffs. One will not.
But which one?
It certainly could be the Buffalo Bandits. As they enter tonight’s game against the Swarm in Minnesota (8 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM), they are in the worst position of any of the five teams. The Bandits can not back into a playoff spot without winning a game. Buffalo must win at least one of its remaining three games to keep its postseason hopes from being extinguished.
The Bandits enter tonight’s game with a 5-8 record, having lost five in a row. The other teams with five wins are Philadelphia, Rochester, Colorado and Minnesota. The record of the fourth-place team in the East is matched against the fifth-place team in the West; the loser stays home during the postseason.
If the Bandits lose their next three games, they would finish 5-11. Two of those games are against Rochester and Minnesota, so both of those teams would have at least six wins and be guaranteed to be ahead of Buffalo. Meanwhile, Philadelphia and Colorado both won the season series with the Bandits, so it would win the first tiebreaker between the teams. Buffalo’s other game is at Washington.
“It’s a good thing we have the destiny in our hands. At the same time, I don’t know how much that means right now,” Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said.
Here’s how the other teams look entering the stretch drive:
• Philadelphia (5-7): Remaining Games – at Rochester, Minnesota, Toronto, at Washington. The Wings’ last win came when it tied the Bandits in the final three seconds on March 1 and then won in overtime. They have lost four in a row since then.
“Look at our club last year – we were in a different situation when we secured a playoff spot early. We were feeling really good and then we had some things slide,” Wings coach Johnny Mouradian said. “We look at this year as the opposite. We’re planning and preparing to finish strong.”
• Rochester (5-6): Remaining Games – Philadelphia, at Toronto, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Buffalo. The string of road games looks daunting, except for the fact that the Knighthawks are 2-5 at home this season and 3-1 on the road.
“Every time we step on the floor, we have to do our best,” Knighthawks coach Mike Hasan said. “You can only look at the next one and worry about that.”
• Colorado (5-8): Remaining Games – at Edmonton, Minnesota, at Minnesota. After losing five in a row, the Mammoth have won three of their last four – including two wins over the Bandits.
“We’re happy with our play of late, but obviously we can improve,” Mammoth coach Bob Hamley said.
• Minnesota (5-7): Remaining Games – Buffalo, at Philadelphia, Colorado, at Colorado. The Swarm are on their first two-game winning streak of the season, with a seven-goal win over Washington and a nine-goal victory over Philadelphia.
“Look at last year with Edmonton. They went from a No. 4 seed in the West to the final,” Swarm coach Joe Sullivan said. “Anything can happen if you get to the playoffs.”
The playoff possibilities, then, are close to endless for the Bandits. A win tonight, though, would be very much appreciated. The Bandits are one loss away from tying the franchise record for consecutive defeats, last done in 2012. The 0-5 March – the worst month in team history – featured stretches of poor play by Buffalo. Toronto had nine straight goals in a win last week, while Colorado had eight on March 9.
“There’s been one quarter in every game in which we fall apart,” Kilgour said. “When you get those kinds of quarters, you’re always playing from behind. It’s really hard to get your confidence up.”
“I don’t know if I’ve been on a downward spiral like this in my career,” said Buffalo’s Mark Steenhuis, a 12-year veteran. “It’s definitely tough. ... We have to dig down and get more motivated.”
Bandits rookie Dhane Smith injured his shoulder last week against Toronto. He’s considered questionable for tonight’s game.