Sting, Knighthawks vying for Champion's Cup
Rochester is an offensive juggernaut. Arizona has the hottest goalie in the league. Something will have to give when these two meet for the Champion's Cup on Saturday.
A quick breakdown of this week's championship matchup:
(1) Rochester Knighthawks vs. (3) Arizona Sting
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, Jobing.com Arena
Rochester beat Arizona 19-16 in a shootout at the Blue Cross Arena on Feb. 24. Lindsay Plunkett led Arizona with five goals while Dan Dawson and Craig Conn combined for 15 points. Rob Blasdell made 18 saves on 26 shots but was pulled from the game for Mike Attwood, who allowed nine goals on 30 shots for the loss. John Grant Jr. had a game-high seven goals and 10 points, while Shawn Williams chipped in seven points. Pat O'Toole got the win, turning aside 41 of the 56 shots he faced. There were 13 power-play goals scored in the game -- six for Arizona on 11 opportunities and seven for Rochester on nine chances. Arizona is 2-11 all-time vs. the K-Hawks, but this will mark the first time the two franchises have met in the postseason.
Everyone knows the K-Hawks are an offensive juggernaut. They led the NLL with 249 goals this season while Arizona scored only 188. Dan Dawson and Craig Conn are the big guns for the Sting while the K-Hawks are led by John Grant Jr. and Scott Evans. Grant led the league in scoring with 51 goals and 111 points in 15 games while Dawson finished second with 47 goals and 107 points in 16 games. However, the story of the game may be the secondary scoring of both clubs. Mike Accursi, Shawn Williams and Shawn Evans give Rochester a decided edge when it comes to filling the net, but the highly underrated Plunkett, along with brothers Curt and Derek Malawsky and young Matt Brown, give Arizona a good punch of their own in the offensive zone.
Arizona's defense, led by captain and all-star Peter Lough, gets little credit leaguewide. However, they have been solid in both playoff wins, containing two potent offenses in Calgary and San Jose. While not as quick or deadly in transition as the K-Hawks, players such as Chris Seller and Scott Self can do damage at both ends of the floor. The K-Hawks have a weapon in transition when it comes to veteran Steve Toll. The speedster has only one goal in the playoffs but tallied 14 goals and 24 points in the regular season. Stephen Hoar of the K-Hawks can also fill the net, finishing tied for fourth in scoring among defensemen with 10 goals and 23 points.
Rob Blasdell has been the playoff MVP without question so far. He has averaged 43 saves in Arizona's two wins and sports an incredible goals-against average of eight. Blasdell started the season strong but struggled midway before regaining his form. The 2002 NLL goaltender of the year has been exceptional at challenging the shooter and making quick reaction saves during this playoff run. Coming in somewhat under the radar is Pat O'Toole, one of the league's most consistent veteran netminders. He has averaged 44.5 saves in Rochester's two wins and has a 9.59 GAA. His play this season has been overshadowed by the K-Hawks high-scoring offense.
Regular season: Power play -- Rochester, 58.77 pct. (1st); Arizona, 46.09 pct. (6th); Penalty kill -- Rochester, 62.50 pct. (2nd); Arizona, 54.64 pct. (8th)
Playoffs: Power play -- Rochester, 35.71 pct.; Arizona 42.86 pct.; Penalty kill -- Rochester, 66.67 pct.; Arizona 61.11 pct.
Mike Accursi had five goals and Pat O'Toole made 43 saves in the 14-13 OT win over Buffalo April 27 in the East Division championship game. Dan Dawson and Craig Conn each had five points while Rob Blasdell made 44 stops in the 9-7 West Division championship win over San Jose April 28.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Arizona is playing at home and has the hottest goalie right now, but Rochester's attack should be too much for the Sting to handle. That said, the K-Hawks' power play has struggled in the postseason, and if that continues, combined with Blasdell playing the game of his career, this one could go either way. In the end, as with most lacrosse games, it comes down to which goalie will play better and rise to the occasion.
Ty Pilson, a frequent contributor to Inside Lacrosse, was the NLL writer of the year.
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