SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The chase for the Champion’s Cup begins this weekend as the Minnesota Swarm (8-8) hosts the defending champion Washington Stealth (8-8) in a Divisional Semifinal matchup on Saturday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. CT on Treasure Island Field at Xcel Energy Center.
The Swarm is making its fifth trip to the postseason in 2011, but is still searching for its first ever playoff win. Minnesota has hosted one other home playoff game in its history, but lost to the New York Titans 11-8 in 2008.
After finishing the season on a two-game winning streak, the Swarm managed to finish the season as the #2 seed in the West Division, and trail only the division champion Calgary Roughnecks (11-5). The Swarm clinched a home playoff game in Week #16 after defeating the Colorado Mammoth 12-8 on Treasure Island Field.
“I don’t think it really matters to us where we play,” coach Mike Lines said. “It’s a lot nicer to play at home, and our fans deserve it. We’ve had very supportive fans and they’ve come out the last few weeks and we obviously want to continue to see that. But I think we would have been comfortable playing them wherever.”
2011 Minnesota vs. Washington Series Breakdown
January 14 – 16-8 WIN @Washington – F Ryan Benesch records a 2011 league-high seven goals.
January 22 – 11-10 OT WIN vs. Washington – Benesch’s third goal of the night is the game-winner in overtime.
April 9 – 16-15 OT LOSS @Washington – Stealth escape in overtime behind F Rhys Duch’s fifth score of the night.
Minnesota leads the all-time series 7-4. Washington leads all-time series in the postseason 1-0.
Saturday’s matchup against the Stealth will mark the fourth time the two teams have met this season. Both team’s rank in the Top 3 in scoring and feature plenty of big names on both sides of the ball.
“I‘d like to see us be able to score the goals, but we need to shut them down.” Lines said. “If we get into a 15 or 16 goal game like we did last time with them, that doesn’t benefit us. If we’re doing that, then our defense isn’t playing well. A game closer to 10-9 would be better for us.”
Fans should expect to see plenty of action from the league’s Top 3 scorers in Swarm F Ryan Benesch, and Stealth forwards Lewis Ratcliff and Rhys Duch. Benesch became the first player in Swarm history to lead the league in scoring after finishing the season with 95 points (46g, 49a). In three games against Washington this season, Benesch has had no problem racking up points, recording 23 (13g, 10a).
On the other side, Ratcliff 92 points (41g, 51a) and Duch 90 points (42g, 48a) are widely regarded as the league’s most dangerous tandem. Ratcliff and Duch combined for 21 points (11g, 11a) in the Stealth’s April 9 victory against Minnesota.
“They’re good shooters,” Lines said. “We’ve had some success against them where we have shut them down, but in other games they’ve each had 10 or 11 points. It will take a combined effort from our defense to limit their chances.”
Beside the fact that both teams have already met three times this season, there’s still plenty of intriguing story lines from last season’s first round postseason matchup. Washington defeated the Swarm 14-10 at home, and later went on to win the 2010 Champion’s Cup. Coach Lines said his team is more playoff savvy compared to last year’s squad.
“I think the biggest difference between last year’s team is the experience we have,” Lines said. “We picked up a guy like Mat Giles, who’s been there and won it before. A guy like Rory Smith has been to the playoffs and in the finals. We’ve got a more mature team and more playoff ready team this season.”
Minnesota is 5-3 this season at home and Washington is 5-3 on the road.
Lower level tickets for the Swarm’s home playoff game this Saturday against the Washington Stealth on Treasure Island Field at Xcel Energy can be purchased for as low as $24. Three game ‘pay-as-we-play’ packages can also be purchased for as low as $72. Pay-as-we play packages guarantee fans the same seats throughout the playoffs and will only be charged if a home playoff game is scheduled. Ticket packages and single game tickets are available online at mnswarm.com or by calling 888-MN-SWARM. Tickets are also available on ticketmaster.com.
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