Thunder looks for third strike to put Nighthawks out

2-0 during season, Gait confident of playoff win

Indoor Lacrosse

April 16, 1999|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

As anyone who knows cliches knows, it's awfully tough to beat a team three times during a season.

The abbreviated National Lacrosse League playoffs begin this weekend -- Philadelphia plays in Toronto tonight and the Thunder plays host to the Rochester Nighthawks tomorrow (7: 30 p.m.) -- and that's the situation the home forces face.

The Thunder slugged Rochester, 20-13, to open the season at the Baltimore Arena on Jan. 2 and repeated over the Hawks, 14-11, a couple of weeks ago on the shores of Lake Ontario. So, are the Thunder players wary that the so-called law of averages is about to smite them?

"Not me," said Gary Gait, the perennial all-pro, league MVP and scoring machine of the ballclub. "I'm a firm believer that if you beat a team a couple of times, you should beat it a third time, a fourth time or however many times you deserve to win. But that doesn't mean you just show up and expect to win."

Gait, who was named the NLL's best player for the fifth straight season and a first-team all-star for a ninth time this week, reasons that he and his mates are well aware of how evenly matched the teams are.

"There's not a bad team in the league," he said. "Injuries and other circumstances hurt teams during the season, then everyone seems to run into a streak of bad luck from time to time. For instance, Syracuse won only three games this season [3-9], but it lost three or four games by one goal. I think about 40 percent of the games in the league are determined by a goal or two."

As far as Rochester is concerned, it is right there with the Thunder. Both teams finished with 8-4 records, a game behind regular-season champion Toronto (9-3).

Gait's scouting report on the Hawks: "They have a well-balanced offense. They have a lot of guys who can shoot and are a constant threat.

"You can't slough off guys and double up on others because they'll hurt you. You have to play everyone on that team honestly and, most of all, hustle back on defense."

That's what the Thunder did in Rochester with a sparkling defensive effort in which the team held three of the Hawks' four leading scorers without a goal.

At one point, the Thunder held its rival scoreless for 19 minutes while recovering from a 7-3 deficit in assuming an 11-7 lead. The victory broke a four-game winning streak Rochester had at the time.

Postseason play, particularly in hockey and basketball, always seems to lead to conservatism on offense and increased intensity on defense. Gait said he doesn't see it in indoor lacrosse.

"Our style is to run and create," he said. "Don't worry, we'll attack and try to create opportunities. We have to show up with the right attitude and do the things that make us a better team and a winner as happened in our previous games with Rochester."

If Toronto prevails in its semifinal match with Philadelphia (5-7) tonight, it will be host to the championship game next Friday.

If Toronto is beaten and the Thunder is successful against Rochester, Baltimore will be host to the title contest a week from tomorrow, April 24.

Last season, Philadelphia and the Thunder met in a best-of-three finale and the Wings prevailed in straight sets. The league dropped that format as it found the season dragging as May approached.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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