Strange as it may seem in view of its 2-5 record, the Thunder has clinched a spot in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League playoffs.
Stranger still, the Pittsburgh Bulls, who haven't won a game in more than a year, still have a chance to advance to the playoffs.
Such is life in the MILL: All but one of the seven teams make the playoffs.
After its final regular-season game against the Bulls tonight at the Baltimore Arena, the Thunder will prepare for its American Division playoff March 28 on the road against the New York Saints.
The winner of that game will meet the Philadelphia Wings, the division's regular-season winner, April 3 for the American title and a spot in the championship game, scheduled for the weekend of April 8-10 or 16-18 in the arena of the team with the best regular-season attendance.
Pittsburgh, which last won March 7, 1992 against the Wings, not only has to win this weekend but needs outside help as well. The Bulls (0-6) can clinch third in the National Division if they beat the Thunder tonight and Philadelphia on Sunday and if the Boston Blazers (1-5) lose their last two games this weekend.
"Pittsburgh will be sky-high," said Thunder coach John Stewart. "They have a lot of Baltimore players. In essence, it'll be a home game."
Four of Pittsburgh's top five scorers have Maryland ties -- Lindsay Dixon (Towson State), Mark Gold (UMBC), Jeff Wills (Johns Hopkins) and Tim Hormes (Washington College). Dave Pietramala, NCAA Division I Player of the Year in 1989 for Hopkins, anchors the defense.
Defense has been a more serious problem for Baltimore than for Pittsburgh. The Thunder is last in the MILL with an average yield of 18.7 goals, almost four more than No. 6 Pittsburgh.
"We need at least one spectacular save a quarter by our goalie, and the defense has to limit the number of good shots opponents take," Stewart said. "You need good cross-checking, positioning, footwork and overplaying people to their strong hands."
The Thunder, obviously, hasn't had enough of any of the above.
"The league is geared toward offense," Stewart said. "All it takes is one breakdown from one player to give up a goal. You've got to make opponents pass more and keep hitting them to make them miss their passes."
The Thunder's defensive shortcomings cannot be traced to lack of good athletes, said former Loyola star Brian Kroneberger, because "ours may be the best in the league." Defense is an attitude that must be maintained.
"We haven't played a full 60 minutes of defense," Kroneberger said. "If we'd just buckle down and give a good defensive effort, we'd win."
NOTES: MILL attendance is over 200,000 and will average more than 10,000 for the second straight year, a 25 percent increase since the league's first season in 1987. . . . Of the MILL's 23 games, 15 have been decided by three goals or fewer. The average victory margin is 3.5. . . . The Buffalo Bandits will have their fourth sellout (16,325) when they entertain the Detroit Turbos tomorrow night.