The National Lacrosse League's East Division is wide open entering the final weekend of the regular season. None of the five teams have clinched or been eliminated from postseason contention, so the NLL needed 413 words in its press release to explain all the possible scenarios.
For the Bandits to return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus, they first need to take care of business against the Rochester Knighthawks Saturday night at KeyBank Center (7:30 p.m., 1520 AM).
A loss would eliminate the team, but a win does not guarantee a playoff spot. Buffalo, which sits at 8-9, needs one of the Toronto Rock or New England Black Wolves to lose. If both win, the Bandits would lose out on the final playoff spot to the possible remaining 9-9 teams due to tiebreakers. Toronto plays Colorado at 9 p.m. on Saturday, while New England hosts a Georgia Swarm team on the second game of a back-to-back on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Buffalo can get as high as the second seed, which would mean a home playoff game next Saturday, if the Bandits win and both Toronto and New England lose. The Bandits, who have lost two straight, had a chance to clinch a spot last week with a win against the Toronto Rock and a Rochester victory against New England. Neither result went Buffalo's way.
"The stress level is high," Bandits General Manager Steve Dietrich said. "The frustration level is high. You go from having destiny in your own hands to needing help. That's the frustrating part. All we can worry about is taking care of our own business."
Clearly, the results of these final two nights have an enormous impact on the optics of the season. If everything works in Buffalo's favor, the Bandits would jump from a last-place finish in the nine-team league in 2017 to hosting a semifinal matchup this year. More dubiously, Buffalo could also end the season in eighth place in the league, only ahead of the ghastly Vancouver Stealth, and miss the playoffs two years in a row for the second time in the franchise's 27-year history.
"I guess that's what parity is all about," Dietrich said. "I think we made lots of strides this year. We've gotten a lot younger. We've put younger players in key situations and played younger guys a lot heavier minutes than what we anticipated we were going to have to. I'm impressed with the gains we've made this year, but at the end of the day, I'm a fan, too. ... It's a big mountain to climb to get to the upper echelon of this league."
Here are the playoff-clinching scenarios for the remaining four teams in the East:
- Georgia clinches a playoff berth with a win against either Vancouver or New England, OR with a Toronto win vs. Colorado OR with a Rochester win vs. Buffalo. The Swarm are eliminated with losses to both Vancouver and New England, a Buffalo win against Rochester and a Colorado win against Toronto.
- New England clinches a playoff berth with a Toronto loss to Colorado OR with a win against Georgia. The Black Wolves are eliminated with a loss to Georgia and a Toronto win against Colorado.
- Rochester clinches a playoff berth with Georgia losses to both Vancouver and New England OR with a win against Buffalo. The Knighthawks are eliminated with a loss against Buffalo and one Georgia win against either Vancouver or New England.
- Toronto clinches a playoff berth with a win against Colorado and a Georgia win against New England OR with a Georgia win against Vancouver and a Buffalo win against Rochester. The Rock are eliminated with a loss to Colorado, OR with Georgia losses to both Vancouver and New England OR with a Georgia win against Vancouver, a Rochester win against Buffalo and a New England win against Georgia.
The NLL playoffs consist of three rounds: divisional semifinals, divisional finals and the Champions Cup. The second and third-place teams in each division play each other in the single-elimination semifinals for the right to play the first-place regular season finisher in the divisional finals. Unlike last year, the divisional finals are also single elimination, with the Champions Cup remaining a best-of-three series.