The Premier Lacrosse League playoffs kicked off with a bang this past weekend in Utah as lacrosse fans were treated to some excellent playoff lacrosse. We got the trademark Chaos over Archers playoff upset, a tense battle between Atlas and Cannons, where the steady, balanced play of the Young Bulls saw them pull away late, and an absolute barn-burner between the league’s fiercest rivals. The games were electric, the highlights were plentiful, and we now have four teams left standing in the 2021 season.
Game 1: History repeats itself in Utah as Chaos reigns supreme
Although Whipsnakes-Redwoods stands out amongst the PLL rivalries, the Chaos and Archers are becoming increasingly familiar with one another. That said, it has been the Chaos that have emerged victorious in the playoffs for two seasons in a row, as this weekend’s tilt had an element of déjà vu, as the Chaos took this one 13-10.
Going into this one, the two teams had been trending in opposite directions. The Archers looked virtually unbeatable to start the season, but struggled to carry that momentum into the playoffs. The Chaos, however, started out disjointed and sloppy, but have since improved in every facet of the game. We saw a continuation of those patterns on Friday.
It started with Max Adler, who took a few games to get his timing down in the PLL, but he is now looking like the guy the Chaos expected when they used their top pick in the PLL Entry Draft to draft him. Against Stephen Kelly and the Archers, Adler won 70% of his draws. When this Chaos offense is given those extra opportunities, they capitalize.
Andy Towers has purged his offense of any player without a notable box lacrosse background, and the team looks locked in. While Chaos star Dhane Smith was at the forefront, it was the chemistry that stood out. Nine of the twelve goals (one was a two-pointer by Smith) were assisted, most coming on bang-bang plays with beautiful ball movement and off-ball cuts and screens that would make any offensive coach shed a tear of joy.
Kyle Jackson, filling in for the injured Chris Cloutier, accounted for much of the unassisted work as he got gritty around the net, scooping up two loose balls and tucking them away. Jackson finished with an impressive four goals and two assists.
The Archers certainly did not roll over. They put together a few impressive runs, complete with some momentum changing buzzer-beaters at the end of the first half and third quarter. But the Chaos refused to give up control of the game. Although Grant Ament finished with five points, credit must be given to Jack Rowlett, as he contained the Archers lead playmaker and potential PLL MVP in settled six-on-six situations. Of course, life is a little easier when the best goaltender on the planet is the last line of defense, and he earned that title on Friday.
After being heavy underdogs in back-to-back weekends against the Archers, the Chaos are riding a significant wave of “nobody believes in us” energy. They’ll be underdogs once again against the Atlas, and we’ll see if they can rip off another upset.
Betting Breakdown: If you were one of the few that got the juicy +155 value on the Chaos moneyline, you had an enjoyable Friday. The Chaos defense and Blaze Riorden held this one just barely below the 23.5 total.
Game 2: Complete team game by Atlas is too much for Cannons
There’s something about this Atlas team. They can win a lacrosse game in just about every way imaginable — they can grind it out on defense with studs Tucker Durkin, Michael Rexrode, Cade Van Raaphorst, and Danny Logan. Trevor Baptiste can suck the life out of opponents by taking possession after possession. Romar Dennis and Bryan Costabile bring speed and power up top. Jeff Teat, Jake Carraway, and Eric Law are an absurdly skilled and selfless set on attack. When all of these groups are firing as they were on Saturday, you best look out. It’s the running of the Bulls, and their opponents are the poor Spaniards getting tossed around on the streets of Pamplona.
The aforementioned Baptiste came flying out of the gate and controlled the game early for Atlas. That said, goals from Tyson Bell and Shayne Jackson put Cannons ahead 2-0 early. The relentless pressure of Baptiste and the Atlas offense became too much, however, as the team soon wrestled control of the game away from the Cannons and did not look back.
The “family-style” offense that the Atlas have been preaching since they turned their season around was in full-force this Friday. Every key player had their own moment, but they spent the other parts of the game setting their teammates up so they could succeed as well. Law led the team with seven points, but even he felt like he only had the ball in his stick for a second here or there, never once interrupting the flow. This team is beautifully assembled on that end, and the players have all bought in to the philosophy.
The other end was highlighted by the knock-down, drag-out grudge match between Rexrode and Lyle Thompson. Both players have won a matchup this season, and this one was a virtual draw. They went at it possession after possession as both players put on a stunning display of skill at their respective positions. Thompson leaked through a few times, but Rexrode did his part. Double teams by Durkin and some timely saves by JD Colarusso were just enough to keep Thompson from breaking this one open.
This one got a little tight when a Paul Rabil two-pointer that just barely snuck over the line put the game within one in the third quarter, but a goal right off the faceoff from Baptiste to Law quelled the momentum. Following that, Teat evaporated on Brodie Merrill only to reappear and tuck one into the corner with a magnificent display of skill and creativity.
The Atlas closed it out soon after and are rolling hot into the semifinals.
Betting Breakdown: The Atlas earned their favorite status, winning both outright and covering the -1.5 spread. JD Colarusso’s heroics kept this one below the 25.5 total, however.
Game 3: Whipsnakes charge back to win 14-13 against Redwoods
Three times these teams have met in the PLL playoffs, and three times the Whipsnakes have emerged victorious with a one-goal margin. The Redwoods made multiple moves this offseason in hopes of swinging this matchup in their favor, bringing in Rob Pannell to lead the attack and drafting faceoff ace TD Ierlan to battle Joe Nardella. Unfortunately, the ‘Woods would have to roll without Ierlan and key middie Sergio Perkovic as both were out for this contest.
Early on, they were able to overcome those losses. Drew Simoneau, the fill-in for Ierlan, had success against Nardella and was key part of the early run for the Redwoods. Charlie Bertrand got some extra reps with Perkovic out and made the most of it, finishing with four goals in this one. Jules Heningburg, who missed last season, was stellar as well, and his relentless attack was a main reason for the Redwoods lead which grew as large as 10-5.
If you’ve seen these two teams play before, however, you knew this one was far from over at that point. In a run that was reminiscent of the one that won them a championship a year prior, Nardella started taking over at the stripe, and Zed Williams absolutely feasted with the extra opportunities. After a slow start, Nardella finished winning 66% of faceoffs, and Zed compiled an otherworldly nine points. He scored on command, and, after tallying only one assist in the regular season, dished out three dimes in the game.
The two stars got their team tied with the Redwoods at eleven. From there, they traded haymakers until it was all knotted up at thirteen. It was then that Matt Rambo once again put on display some late game heroics, muscling through Garrett Epple to add the final tally in this contest.
Betting Breakdown: The Redwoods covered the +1.5 spread in a losing effort, and though both teams have strong defenses, they eviscerated the 24.5 total.
Looking Ahead to the Semifinals
It is shaping up to be a hell of a weekend at Subaru Park. The four teams left are all peaking at the right time, and it truly feels like any team could emerge victorious. In the prior matchups, the Atlas took down the Chaos as they were still searching for their identity, winning 16-10. The combatants in the other bracket, Whipsnakes and Waterdogs, have played once before where the ‘Dogs handled a hobbled Whipsnakes team and won 11-6.
It will be interesting to see if Max Adler can continue his positive momentum against Trevor Baptiste, as the Atlas draw man dominated their first matchup to the tune of a 69% winning percentage. Additionally, the connected Chaos offense will have to keep humming against an equally connected Atlas defense. If this was the matchup a month ago, Atlas would be the comfortable favorite, but the Chaos’ momentum, combined with their knack for turning it on in the playoffs, should give Atlas bettors some pause. That said, Atlas are favored as of now, opening at -1.5.
Although the Waterdogs defense snuffed out the ‘Snakes offense in their last bout, the Whipsnakes return with a healthy Matt Rambo and hired gun Justin Guterding. Since Ben Randall, Liam Byrnes, and Eli Gobrecht have taken over on defense, the ‘Dogs have been lights out. But this fully-loaded Whips O is a different animal. Jake Withers and the wing pitbulls Zach Currier and Ryland Rees also gave Nardella fits last time they played, but Nardella has been perhpas the best faceoff athlete in the PLL since the league’s inception, so it will be interesting to see if he can flip the matchup back in Whipsnakes’ favor. As of the now on DraftKings, the Whips are 1.5-point favorites, but Caeser’s Sportsbook currently has the Waterdogs as the 1.5-point favorites so choose your sportsbook accordingly.