NPSL conference finals

April 13, 2000|By Brent Jones

American Conference

No. 1 Cleveland Crunch (29-17) vs.

No. 2 Blast (28-18)

Season series: Cleveland, 4-1.

Playoff history: Cleveland, 5-2.

Outlook: Cleveland, the defending NPSL champion, started the season slowly, but won eight of its last 10 games to overtake the Blast for the top spot in the American Conference. The Crunch is hurt by having to start the series on the road, where it went 7-15 this season, second worst of the remaining teams. Cleveland played all its games at home in the first-round series against Montreal because of scheduling problems. Crunch forward Hector Marinaro led the league in scoring with 231 points, and his partner, Zoran Karic, leads all in the playoffs with 17. Those two will be the primary goal scorers for the Crunch. The Blast can get goals from anyone. The first game in Baltimore is the key game. If the Crunch wins, it will have two games at home to close the series. If the Crunch loses, it has to win back-to-back games over the Blast, which has not lost two straight since mid-December.

Prediction: Blast in three.

National Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee Wave (33-13) vs.

No. 3 Edmonton Drillers (24-22)

Season series: Milwaukee, 5-3.

Playoff history: Edmonton, 4-3.

Outlook: The Drillers were in first place for nearly the first quarter of the season until the Wave got hot and took over the Midwest Division. Milwaukee dropped only two home games this season and clinched its division before any other team. The Wave got a chance to rest some of its veterans and play some of its younger players down the stretch. Edmonton had to pull out two one-point wins in its first-round series against Kansas City. Wave goalkeeper Victor Nogueira led the league with a 9.66 points-against average during the regular season and 6.50 in the playoffs. Opposite him is rookie Jim Larkin, who gave up 25 and 14 points in the Drillers' opening series for a 19.35 points-against average. That alone will be the difference.

Prediction: Wave in two.

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