Tonight in Denver, the Minnesota Swarm open the single elimination playoffs against the Colorado Mammoth. Those who follow the Swarm will know this is a familiar opponent, this being the fourth time the teams have met. The season series currently sits at 2-1 in favor of the Mammoth. However, that one win for the Swarm was last week.
It was convincing.
The Swarm played a complete game from beginning to end, kept league MVP and season scoring record holder John Grant, Jr in check for three and half quarters. The defense and transition for the Swarm had Grant, Jr off his game, and looking bad. Of course, he is who he is, and he still got his points, but the Swarm know the recipe, and can certainly repeat that feat tonight.
Yesterday, Adam Jones of the Mammoth was named the league's Rookie of the Year, something that is a bit surprising with the number of highly qualified candidates on the Swarm's roster. Alas, the league chooses the winners, not giving the media covering the league a chance to get involved. Jones had a very good season, so it isn't exactly a travesty, but players like Jordan MacIntosh outperformed Jones on a week to week basis.
None of the awards matter at this point, with the focus being on advancing toward the Champions Cup. According to MNSwarm.com, this is the first time the two teams have ever met in the playoffs, and is the only game in the opening round featuring two teams above the .500 mark. The Swarm have never won a playoff game, but this year could certainly be different, with the Swarm ending the season with a four game winning streak, and putting together complete team games.
The Swarm have to be in the heads of the Mammoth, who had been rolling fairly comfortably through their season before the Swarm derailed that train. The Mammoth will need to adjust their game, while the Swarm need to do exactly what they did last week. Clog shooting lanes on defense, create offensive transition chances, and continue to press on offense. The only weak spot for the Swarm was defensive transition, something you can bet Coach Joe Sullivan highlighted as he stayed with the team all week.
One factor the Swarm will need to deal with is the home crowd in Denver. The Pepsi Center is sold out, and Mammoth fans will bring the noise. The crowd will most certainly be a factor, and will give the Mammoth a huge advantage. With over 11,000 at the last game here in St. Paul, the Swarm got a taste of what it might be like, but the fans are now hostile.
The Champions Cup playoffs last three weeks, and if the Swarm hope to see the Xcel Energy Center again, they will need some help. It is not expected that Edmonton can beat top seed Calgary, but if that happens, and the Swarm win tonight, they will get to host the second round.
Judging by the Twitter feeds of players and team staff, it appears everyone is relaxed and in good spirits, yet focused in on the task at hand. You can bet the one bright spot going in Minnesota sports right now is not going down without a fight.
You can watch the game live on CBS Sports Network, starting at 6:30.