PLL Playoff Primer: Chase of Inaugural Title Starts in Columbus


The Premier Lacrosse League regular season was as intense as it gets. Eight games, nearly a third of all those contested, went into overtime. Three teams entered the final weekend tied with a shot at two playoff spots, a battle that came down to the final game in Albany.

But now is when it really gets serious. The PLL postseason kicks off this weekend in Columbus, the first of three weekends of postseason play before a league champion is crowned.

First, a reminder of the PLL’s unique playoff format is probably in order. Two of the weekend’s three games will be for a shot at the first-ever league championship, while the remaining two squads will duke it out for the chance to pick first overall in next year’s draft.

The league’s top two teams, Chaos and Whipsnakes, will play for the right to move straight into the championship game. The loser of this matchup gets a mulligan of sorts, getting the chance to play the winner of the Redwoods and Archers matchup for a trip to the title bout.

Atlas and Chrome, the two teams that missed the playoff bracket, will play to extend their seasons and earn the first overall pick. The winner of this matchup will play the loser of Redwoods/Archers, while the loser will see its season come to an end.

The setup was put into place to help discourage tanking, which is particularly notable this season considering the strength of next year’s draft class.

Just like in the regular season, the league’s parity makes it hard to know what to expect from each of these games. The two playoff matchups feature teams that each beat the other by one goal in previous matchups.

Here’s a breakdown of each of the battles in Columbus as the road to the championship in Philadelphia begins.

(4) Archers vs. (3) Redwoods
Friday, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Regular season matchups: Week 2, Archers 10-9; Week 6, Redwoods 9-8.

Strengths: Both teams boast stout defenses, though Redwoods has had a few games it would like to forget.

Archers led the league in goals against average (10.5) while featuring members of the former “Faceless Men” defensive unit that thrived in Major League Lacrosse with the Ohio Machine. Splitting time in goal has worked out, as Adam Ghitelman and Drew Adams combine to lead the league in team save percentage. Oh, and on offense, Archers boasts arguably the best player in the world in Tom Schreiber.

The Redwoods defense has put strong pieces around its core of Notre Dame products and seemed to return to normal last week after the absence of Eddy Glazener sent the unit into a tailspin the week prior. Garrett Epple leads the PLL in caused turnovers with 23.

Weaknesses: Archers needs to get production from its midfielders. Schreiber is the team’s only player at the position with more than 13 points, though Joey Sankey is averaging nearly two points per game since his midseason acquisition.

Redwoods midfield wasn’t that stellar down the stretch either, but got a big shot in the arm in the finale thanks largely to Sergio Perkovic.

Storyline to watch: What do the Redwoods get out of Jules Heningburg, and can they make up for his production if he’s quieter than usual? The former Rutgers standout has been the biggest breakout star in the PLL this year, but he was sent to the sidelines early last week when Chrome’s Brett Queener cross checked him in the head.

Heningburg, who has 33 points on the year, said he’s OK, but we’ll get the real answer on the field. Redwoods was still able to roll to an 11-goal win against Chrome without him, but that seems like more of an aberration than anything.

(5) Atlas at (6) Chrome
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Gold)

Regular season matchups: Week 3, Atlas 13-12; Week 9, Atlas 17-14.

Strengths: When the Chrome offense is on, especially in 6-on-6 play, it is tough to stop. That was on display in a 20-16 win against Whipsnakes and a 19-11 win against Chaos. Justin Guterding is at the center of it all, finishing third in the league in points this season.

Atlas has a strong backbone in goalie Jack Concannon and features a number of veterans. There’s a reason this team was considered a title favorite when the rosters were first released. There are many talented players; it just needs to click. With wins in three of its last four games, perhaps that’s starting to happen.

Weaknesses: Chrome’s transition isn’t outstanding, and the team is likely down a pole after John Moderski went to the ground last week with a scary injury. The team hasn’t had the depth to make up for a loss like that.

These two teams finished in the bottom two slots in goals allowed this season, with Chrome giving up 137 and Atlas 132. It’s a surprising total from an Atlas team that features one of the league’s top defenders, Tucker Durkin.

Storyline to watch: How bad do these guys want it? Sure, the idea of having another top player on your team is good in theory, but it also means someone is losing his spot. This game will be the biggest test of the playoff format yet.

(2) Whipsnakes at (1) Chaos
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Regular season matchups: Week 1, Whipsnakes 15-14; Week 7, Chaos 13-12.

Strengths: The Maryland-heavy Whips have clicked from the start, with Matt Rambo leading the way on offense. That chemistry is displayed by the team’s 7.3 assisted goals per game, which is tops in the league. They pepper the cage and have the top 2-point shooter in the PLL in Mike Chanenchuk.

Chaos has embraced … chaos. It adjusted to the quick pace and rule adjustments of the PLL. The team’s transition starts with goalie Blaze Riorden, then moves to the famed Bomb Squad long poles and an offense that is now at full strength with the return of Josh Byrne and Miles Thompson. The creativity, especially from Connor Fields, makes them hard to defend.

Weaknesses: As expected with the top two teams, Chaos and Whipsnakes have the least glaring flaws. Whipsnakes went through a lull when it lost three of four and always seemed to have a tendency to let the foot off the gas.

Chaos’ midfield has been quiet at points, including the finale, where no short-stick middie had more than a point. Jake Froccaro is the only Chaos midfielder who surpassed 10 goals this season. The team averages 16.4 turnovers per game, about two more than the rest of the league.

Storyline to watch: Who comes out on top of the battle of the MVP candidates? This should be a high-scoring affair featuring a pair of award finalists in Rambo and Fields. Rambo has had the upper hand in head-to-head with eight point to Fields’ five.

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