You might not know it from the 9-2 record, but the Lizards are used to playing close games.

The Lizards are 4-1 in the five contests decided by two goals or fewer and leading scorer Rob Pannell thinks the tight games have helped mold the team's character.

"We had some close games -- games we won that we could have lost and games we lost we could have won if we had things go a different way," Pannell said. "But for all the slow starts we've gotten out to, we've been able to bounce back from. We've been able to take punches from teams and then punch back."

Never was that more apparent than last Thursday when the Lizards fell behind 9-4 to the Chesapeake Bayhawks before roaring back for a 15-13 win. With the victory the Lizards clinched a spot in the Major League Lacrosse playoffs for the second straight season. The first round will begin Aug. 1.

"Making the playoffs any year in the MLL is no easy task. I think it says a lot about our hard work, especially early on in the season," Pannell said. "It's also important to allow some of our guys who were banged up to rest a little bit, which helps going into the first round of the playoffs."

One of those players could be Paul Rabil -- who missed both of the Lizards loses with a lower body injury before returning against Chesapeake. The 29-year-old midfielder is still fifth in the league with 42 points despite missing action.

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"Paul is the type of player that makes the other midfielders out there around him better," Pannell said. "It's allowed us to be a better team offensively."

The Lizards lead the league with 165 goals and have allowed only 125, the best mark in the MLL.

"You have to look at guys like Greg Gurenlian, winning 77 percent of faceoffs, which is unheard of," Pannell said. "Drew Adams in goal has been great every time he steps out there and Joe Fletcher, who in his second year in the league, is the best defenseman in the league, in my opinion."

It's all come together for the Lizards, who seek the third championship in team history and Pannell, a Smithtown native, couldn't be happier doing it in front of the home crowd.

"Being from Long Island and growing up a Lizards fan and having dreams of playing for the team one day and having it come true and having this success makes it even more special," he said. "This is the type of year we've been waiting for and hopefully we can finish it off the right way."


Next game: Host the Denver Outlaws at 7:30 p.m. on July 9.