The Edmonton Rush came into the National Lacrosse League playoffs with a 6-10 record. The Rochester Knighthawks looked better, but not by much, at 7-9. Two teams with losing records when the playoffs started 2 weekends ago and today, they’re the 2 teams left standing. Calgary at 12-4 … done in Round 1. Colorado at 11-5 … done in Round 1. Toronto and Minnesota, the only other playoff teams with winning records in the regular season, both are now done as well. For shame, say some. How foolish the NLL must look to have 8 of its 9 teams qualify for the playoffs. How foolish the NLL must look to have these 2 teams, Edmonton and Rochester, as the teams playing for its championship. Foolish? Nonsense.
The debate is raging over the NLL’s current playoff format, which has 8 of the 9 teams qualifying for the postseason. Some say that renders the regular season pointless and really, that’s just not so.
If you think the regular season had no point, tell that to Chris Corbeil’s bloody face after that ruckus with Brandon Francis. Tell that to Jordan Hall, who is left to cheering on his Rochester teammates via Twitter as he recovers from a torn ACL. Tell that to Darris Kilgour, whose charged emotion was in full force during Buffalo’s 6-game losing streak. Tell it to Ryan Sharp, whose career ended because of another knee injury.
If the regular season was pointless, someone forgot to tell the NLL players. You don’t suffer injuries like that or raise your voice in disappointment over something you don’t care about. Over something meaningless. The recently concluded regular season was one of the more competitive and compelling seasons this league has seen in a while. Passion was high, hearts were big and the action was real. If you watched more than a few games this season and came away feeling it was pointless, you’re insulting the players who left it on the floor each and every game.
The Calgary Roughnecks played their final 6 games knowing they’d clinched a playoff berth. And they went 5-1 in those games. With 2 weeks left in the regular season, all 4 Eastern Division teams were still in the running to win the divison title. And also with just 2 weekends left in the season, we had Buffalo, Washington and Edmonton fighting for the final playoff berth. For not having much worth, it sure was a breathtaking sprint to the finish line.
When that sprint turned into the playoffs, 2 unlikely finalists emerged in Edmonton and Rochester. And now we have a chorus singing lyrics to a song to suggest that somehow the Knighthawks and the Rush don’t belong where they are today. Again, nonsense. Simply, these teams beat the teams put before them –- the Rush doing it twice, on the road. Sure, the Rush struggled with their offense for most of the season. And yes, Rochester had trouble maintaining consistency. No one can argue that.
But when the chips were on the table, the Rush and the Knighthawks played their best lacrosse of the season. That’s what playoffs are about, in any sport. The Canadiens did it in the 2010 NHL playoffs and the Oilers did it in 2006, both series being remembered as some of the greatest upsets in hockey history. No. 15 Richmond upset No. 2 Syracuse in the 1991 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s called playoff magic in these sports, but apparently it doesn’t apply to the NLL. Because Edmonton and Rochester don’t deserve to be here.
Does having 8 of 9 teams make the playoffs look bad for the NLL? Maybe, because some will point out that other sports don’t have teams with losing records in the championship game. Other sports don’t have all but 1 team make the playoffs. But the NLL is not like other sports. For more than 25 years, it’s been fighting to make headway in a crowded North American sports scene and its had ups and downs with labor squabbles and folding teams. But it’s still here, for our enjoyment.
Sure, the NLL could have created a playoff format for the top 2 teams in each division like some have suggested. But then we’d have a grand total of 3 playoff games, played in Calgary and Toronto. Having 8 teams gave us an extra round with additional games in Rochester and Denver. How is that bad for the game? The ideal playoff format would be a series setup, like the Mann Cup, but it’s not practical for today’s NLL.
Are TV execs salivating over an Edmonton-Rochester final? Probably not. Having a title game in Toronto or Buffalo or Philadelphia or Calgary would be much sexier. And it could have happened, if only those undeserving teams hadn’t gone off and ruined it all.
The most vocal detractors of these finalists are fans from teams already eliminated, so that surely has something to do with it. And it’s hard to blame them. When your team does so well in the regular season but is dismissed early from the playoffs, it’s disappointing.
But to say Edmonton and Rochester don’t deserve to be in the playoffs is just plain silly. These teams didn’t make the rules or the playoff format. They’re just abiding by them, and doing it quite well.Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at email@example.com or go to RochesterSports.com.
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