Game Previews

HIVE FIVE: East Division Finals – Swarm vs. Knighthawks

5 Quick Stings leading into the do-or-die East Division Finals

The 2017-18 regular season is over with, said and done. Last weekend was the Division Semifinals, and the defending World Champion Georgia Swarm found out it would have to welcome the Rochester Knighthawks to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena for the East Division Finals.

It’s win or go home for both teams. After missing the postseason for two straight seasons, Rochester is wanting to show it can win with its young squad and obtain its sixth NLL Cup in franchise history. Georgia wants to show that the first half of this season was a fluke and that this team is capable of repeating as NLL World Champions in convincing fashion.

Georgia and Rochester last saw each other on March 10, when the Knighthawks took the three-game season series against the Swarm with a second win, this one in overtime. The Swarm turned a corner after that and became one of the hottest teams in the NLL, winning six straight games. A large part of that success is because of…

The 2017 NLL MVP

Lyle Thompson trying to beat his defender | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

Lyle Thompson took a while in the 2017-18 season to find his stride. In the first 12 games of the season, Lyle had 52 points (22G, 30A), averaging 4.33 points per game. That’s not a bad pace, but it is a far cry from the 6.44 clip he had in his MVP-campaign last season.

That loss to Rochester on March 10 turned the entire Swarm team around, but Lyle probably personified that change the most on the floor. In the final third of the season, the Swarm points leader for the past two seasons went on a goal-scoring tear, netting 24 of them. He tacked on 10 assists to record 34 points in the final six games, averaging 5.67 points per game.

Think about that. In six games, Lyle outscored his production in double the amount of games. His 86 points are a full 30 shy of his 2017 total, but the impact Lyle has had on the Swarm cannot be understated. 24 goals in six games helps propel a team to the top of the standings.

It certainly helps that Lyle has a history of success against Rochester, especially over the past two seasons. He had 18 points (11G, 7A) against the Swarm’s rival last season and 14 points (8G, 6A) this season, adding up to 32 points (19G, 13A) in six games. Considering how good…

Rochester’s Goaltenders

…are against Georgia, Lyle’s stellar play is welcome.

Netminders Matt Vinc and Angus Goodleaf usually put on good performances against the Swarm and are one of the more frustrating goaltending tandems to face in the NLL:

Vinc and Goodleaf’s stats against Georgia

 

Year

Min.

GA

SV

SOG

GAA

SV%

Vinc 2016 158:19 25 101 126 10.11 .802
  2017 60:00 13 41 54 13.00 .759
  2018 181:30 34 116 150 11.24 .773
Totals 389:49 72 258 330 11.08 .782
Goodleaf 2016 31:39 7 23 30 13.27 .767
  2017 120:00 23 85 108 11.50 .787
  2018 0:00 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 151:39 30 108 138 11.87 .783

Vinc was difficult for the Swarm in 2016, didn’t face the men in blue and yellow that much in 2017, and has turned in two solid games against Georgia this season. Goodleaf hasn’t faced Georgia at all this season, but he was solid against the Swarm in 2017. Part of their success against Georgia is Rochester’s strong defense year in and year out.

Even with Rochester’s strong back end, Georgia has still had success against its Eastern rival. In the past three years, the Swarm is 5-4 over nine games. One thing in particular changed for the Swarm between 2016 and 2017, and it was the free agent signing of…

Mike Poulin

Lyle wasn’t the only one to have a good final six games. Poulin and the Swarm defense improved significantly in the second half of the season, especially with the returns of Chad Tutton and Joel White. Over the first 12 games, Poulin was between the net for 682:11 min. and had a 12.31 GAA and a .770 SV%. In the final six games, his numbers changed for the positive. He made 224 saves out of 287 SOG in 360:00 min. That’s good for a 10.5 GAA and a .780 SV%.

Mike Poulin stopping a five-hole attempt | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

The Swarm’s defense as a whole improved. Over the first 12 games, the unit had a 12.67 GA/GAME. That shrunk to 10.5 GA/GAME in the final six games. Georgia took 937 shots against (SA) all season. In the first 12 games, it averaged 54.17 SA/GAME. And the final six games saw that number drop significantly to 47.83 SA/GAME.

Really, if you aren’t expecting a serious defensive battle between Georgia and Rochester, then you haven’t paying attention. The two teams have some serious firepower, but these two defenses play at a higher level when facing each other. It will be a battle of attrition in the East Division Finals, and hopefully we get to see a good game like the…

East Division Semifinals

Rochester welcomed New England to Blue Cross Arena on Friday, May 6, and the home team put on a clinic in the first half. The Knighthawks outscored the Black Wolves 11-4 in the first 30 minutes. Rochester outran New England in transition and frustrated its offense with the stellar defense the Knighthawks are known for.

The Black Wolves managed to make things interesting in the third quarter by outscoring the home team 5-1. In the fourth quarter, New England was within two goals before Rochester stepped back on the gas and buried the Black Wolves and ended its chances of advancing to the East Division Finals. A 15-11 win for Rochester allows it to enjoy a trip down south to Georgia.

Rookie Austin Shanks had a night with four goals, and Brad Gillies recorded a hat trick and an assist. Joe Resetarits continued his strong 2017-18 campaign into the postseason with six points (2G, 4A). Between the pipes, Vinc was strong and made 49 saves on 60 SOG, finishing the night with an. 817 SV%.

The glaring flaw in the Knighthawks’ game on Friday was letting the Black Wolves clamber its way back into the thick of things. If Rochester was saving things for Georgia the following week, cool, but it could have cost them the game. It makes sense, though. Georgia is rested and raring to go after enjoying…

A Bye Week During the Semifinals

Georgia had the most bye weeks in the NLL with six, and it is hard to maintain momentum with that many interruptions. The coaches and players would say the schedule is what it is and go about their business like true professionals.

But given how the Swarm’s season ended with a ferocious doubleheader weekend against the Vancouver Stealth and a quick turnaround and long trip up to New England for a third and final contest against the Black Wolves, this bye week was actually welcome. Vancouver played its heart out on April 28 and gave Georgia a fight. That game helped keep Georgia sharp for New England the next day, but the trip up to Uncasville is exhausting, especially after you’ve had a game the night before. If ever there was a time for rest, last week was it.

So with Georgia securing the top seeding in the East Division with a win against New England on April 29, one of the rewards was that week off to rest, heal up some bumps and bruises, and work on the Swarm game, sharpening the players further. The Division Finals are sudden death, and after a six-win run to cap off the season, Georgia isn’t ready to stop at just the Division Finals. Winning a NLL Cup is hard enough, and last season was a wonderful one for the Swarm. But repeating as World Champions is one of the hardest things to do in any sport, and that’s the end goal for the Georgia Swarm. The coaches and players will remember that goal, but their focus is entirely on a team that has deservedly earned its spot in the East Division Finals. The Swarm won’t repeat unless it wins against the Knighthawks one last time this season. Right now, that’s all that matters.

Swarming | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess