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Eyes On The Prize: Mammoth Visit Knighthawks

With postseason clinch scenarios in reach, the Colorado Mammoth (8-6) visit the Rochester Knighthawks (9-4) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.

The postseason is but a stone’s throw away for the Colorado Mammoth. Having clinched a playoff berth last weekend, the team hopes to secure at least one home playoff game, a task that hasn’t been fulfilled since 2012.

That can become a reality this weekend. In fact, with four games remaining in their regular season Colorado can clinch a home game in Denver with one win in those four games. They can also host by means of one Vancouver loss in any of their remaining five games.

“It’s going to be a huge test coming down the stretch,” Mammoth coach Chris Gill said earlier this week. “Four games left, it’s nothing but preparing for playoffs now, and we’re working for a home playoff game.”

It was a tale of two games for the Mammoth over the weekend, where they split the home-and-home series with Calgary. The teams won in their respective home buildings, with Colorado edging out a 9-8 win in overtime in Denver and Calgary rebounding 14-9 the following night at the Saddledome.

“We were excited about the clinch for a playoff spot, but there’s a bigger picture involved here,” Gill added. “That first game was exciting to watch…and the second game, we came in there, it was tight the first half, [Calgary] just poured it on in the second half. That’s something we’re going to have to learn from and realize you can’t take a shift or two off in this league.”

With a three-game winning streak snapped by the hands of their arch rivals, the Mammoth head into Rochester without two big defensive names on the roster. Dillon Ward remains on the First Level Injured Reserve List after being placed on the list on March 30. John Gallant meanwhile last suited up for the Mammoth in Week 11 versus the Stealth, and was placed on Level 2 IR prior to the team’s matchups with the Roughnecks.

While the iconic jersey number 11 has been absent on game night, he hasn’t been far from the team according to fellow defenseman Dan Ball. In the meantime, the rest of the Mammoth ‘D’ have helped fill the void of the longest-tenured Mammoth player in franchise history.

“John is a great player and has done a lot of great things for the Colorado Mammoth organization,” Ball said. “He’s been helping out behind the scenes, but with Pat Coyle at the helm…it’s a pretty good environment for us all, and we’ve all been able to step up. It helps with having two solid goaltenders that have helped out as well.”

And while Ward recovers, Alex Buque has made an impressive splash between the pipes, averaging an 8.77 GAA and posting an .819 save percentage in three starts for the Mammoth.

This game will also mark the fifth time John Grant, Jr. has squared off against his former team since being traded to Colorado in 2010. He remains the Knighthawks all-time leader in goals and points, and has racked up 29 points (9+20) in four games against Rochester. Grant, Jr. is four goals away from passing Gary Gait (635) on the NLL all-time goal scoring list.

The Knighthawks are coming off a great weekend where they defeated their division rival Toronto Rock 11-7 on the road on Friday night before returning home on Saturday to dominate the Minnesota Swarm, 10-2.

“What a difference a week makes,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It was two great efforts.”

Newly-acquired forward Joe Resetarits has already left a mark on his new team, scoring twice against the Rock and netting a hat trick against the Swarm.

“Going in and playing with that offense, with that whole team, you couldn’t ask for a better situation,” Resetarits said. “Everyone welcomed me in very well. That’s a fun team to play on, especially with them being the three-time defending champs and getting a chance to get a fourth. It’s a very special feeling and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be in the situation I am right now.”

The Knighthawks used a balance of offensive and defensive effort this past weekend to rebound from a crushing home loss to the Edmonton Rush the prior Saturday. That kind of balance could really help the playoff push.

“Looking at it on paper as a coach, I’m very happy with where we are,” Hasen said. “But looking at it on paper and doing it on the floor are two totally different things. We’ve just got to make sure what’s on the paper, we translate on to the floor. This past weekend was a good one, but with Colorado coming to town and the power they have up front and their ‘D’ and their transition, I think we still need to be better than we were last week. That’s our goal and that’s the way we look at it week in, week out.”

The Knighthawks are one game back of the Rock for the first seed in the East Division playoffs after this past weekend’s efforts. During last season’s playoffs, the Knighthawks forced two decisive mini-games to win the East and then the Champion’s Cup on their home turf. That highlights the importance of getting to play as much at the BCA as the Knighthawks can with a trip to a fourth straight Cup on the line.

“It worked in our favor last year, having that last opportunity against Buffalo and Calgary,” Hasen said. “That’s the goal of every team, trying to end up first in your division…that’s down the road. We’re worrying about us and what we have to do. If we come to work and we work hard, we’ll get some success off that. What happens, happens. At the end of the day, we’ll look at where we are, and where we are is where we are. We just continue the battle until the very last whistle.”

By Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) & Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Jack Dempsey.