NPSL playoffs

April 20, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham

Conference finals

American Conference

Philadelphia KiXX vs. Blast

Series opener: Tomorrow at Baltimore Arena, 7:35 p.m.

Season series: Blast won, 4-3

Outlook: The Blast swept the KiXX in the opening round of last season's playoffs and then won the 2000-01 regular-season series. Defense - led by co-Goalkeeper of the Year Peter Pappas - carried Philadelphia for much of this season. The KiXX like to get all five field players back to force opponents to shoot from the outside. The Blast's answer may be the quick counter, and when you talk quick, you have to look to Paul Wright. The veteran midfielder blew past defender after defender in the Blast's opening series against Buffalo, scoring two critical first-half goals and adding three assists in the deciding 13-8 win over the Blizzard. Philadelphia showed it can score with a surprising 21-19 overtime win at Harrisburg in the opening round but won't want to try to match goals with the Blast. At the other end, the Blast - led by keeper Scott Hileman and defender Lance Johnson - showed it has tightened up in the playoffs, including a 9-8 win at Buffalo in the opener.

National Conference Toronto ThunderHawks vs. Milwaukee Wave

Series opener: Tonight at Milwaukee, 7:05 p.m.

Regular-season series: Milwaukee won, 4-3

Outlook: This is a playoff series of new and old with the expansion ThunderHawks against the defending champion Wave. After a slow regular-season start, Milwaukee passed Toronto just after the midway point to take first place and earn the conference's top seed. That could come in handy with the home team in the conference's two opening round series going a combined 6-0. Both teams needed a third and deciding win at home to advance - Milwaukee knocking off Kansas City, 22-17, and Toronto getting past Wichita, 16-12. The Wave's attack is led by veteran Joe Reininger, who finished the regular season with 134 points and had 12 more in the opening round of the playoffs. Baltimore native Matt Tirschman also enjoyed a strong series, finishing with nine points, including a pivotal three-pointer late in the fourth quarter of the deciding game against Kansas City. Mauro Biello (108 points in the regular season) and Giuliano Oliverio (106) lead Toronto's balanced offense. Milwaukee has a decided edge defensively, particularly in goal, with veteran keeper Victor Nogueira, who went 21-11 with a league-low 9.76 points-against average.

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