This is it. Week 21 of the 2017-18 NLL season, the final week of the regular season. Every team plays one last game, but the Georgia Swarm lucked out with a doubleheader. It welcomes the Vancouver Stealth to the East Coast on Saturday, April 28 before heading up to Connecticut on Sunday, April 29 to close out the NLL season with its third game against the New England Black Wolves.
It has been a long five months, but we’re just steps away from the finish line. Well, the finish line of the regular season. A win gets Georgia into the postseason, but it gets complicated from there as to seeding and the results of the other East Division games on Saturday. At its simplest, Georgia is looking to finish the season 11-7. That’s the only way the Swarm can retain sole possession of first place. Finishing 10-8…
The Swarm can still end the season in first with a 10-8 record, but that means Georgia drops Saturday’s game against the Stealth before taking the season series against the Black Wolves. Then Buffalo has to beat Rochester, and whatever Toronto does doesn’t matter. In that case, Georgia remains the only team in first in the East Division, and New England, Rochester and Buffalo all finish in second. Season series becomes a big deal in untangling that mess, but it won’t matter too much for the Swarm, which will have earned home floor advantage in the East Division Finals.
But, playing devil’s advocate, let’s say the Swarm beats Vancouver and loses to New England. The Swarm will still be in first, only now it’s tied with the Black Wolves, both at 10-8. Unfortunately, the win would mean that New England took the season series against Georgia, so the Swarm would finish in second. If Rochester wins, it gets worse as Georgia lost the season series to the Knighthawks. Technically, the Swarm would be in third at that point and would be on the road for most of the postseason.
Long story short, Georgia wants two wins. If it can’t get two wins, then it needs one against New England, and Rochester has to lose to Buffalo. With first place as tantalizingly close as it is, you don’t want your fate to not be in your own hands.
The East Division is a mad scramble for the finish line. Georgia is a half-step ahead of everyone in the East right now, which is crazy considering…
Where the Swarm Was
A slick BTB pass from King | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
Last place. The Swarm was either the sole retainer of or tied for last place in the East Division for a significant amount of the season. Georgia was in last place for five consecutive weeks to start the season off. Rochester sank to the bottom of the East standings for a while, allowing the Swarm to stay fourth or better for a few weeks. A bye week for Georgia near the beginning of Rochester’s second half surge saw the Knighthawks creep ahead by .011 percentage points, enough to switch places with the Swarm. Georgia tied it up next weekend, dropped back down the next, and tied with Rochester and Buffalo the next before escaping from the cellar. That’s four more straight weeks in last.
All told, Georgia spent 9 of its 21 weeks in last place in the East Division. After starting off 1-3, people league-wide started wondering how good the Swarm’s chances were at repeating as champions, if maybe there was a championship hangover still lingering. But Georgia persevered, and now look at…
Where the Swarm Is
First place. For the third straight week. Only this time, it’s solo.
Rochester falling 11-6 to New England helped Georgia get sole possession of first in the East Division. A quick “thanks” is in order, but it has to be quickly forgotten as the Swarm and Black Wolves clash Sunday.
It’s really incredible when you look back at the Swarm’s season so far. The team has had six bye weeks and will finish the regular season with its third doubleheader, the most for any NLL team this season. Georgia started 1-3, bounced up to .500, dropped two straight before trading wins and losses for the next few games. That trading period masks how consistent the Swarm defense had become, but March 18 onward, it became obvious. After flirting with .500 for a while, Georgia rattled off four straight wins to tie for first place in the East.
It’s not the 13-5 season Georgia had in 2017. The season has been a little ugly, with peaks and valleys. But it does showcase the resilience this Swarm team has. It never felt like it was out of the race, and clawed its way to the top with hard work, consistency, and improvements each and every week. Two games left. That’s all that stands in Georgia’s way. But as is true with every NLL team facing a doubleheader, the Swarm only has…
Vancouver on its Mind
Sellars focused on defense | Photo Credit: Garrett James
Can’t count your chickens before they hatch. So Swarm head coach Ed Comeau will focus on the Vancouver Stealth, winners of only 2 games this season, losers of 15. It was eliminated from the playoff race on March 31 when Calgary bested it 13-9. Vancouver is 9th in goals per game (10.35), 9th in goals against per game (15.65), 9th in penalty kill percentage (40.54%), and has an astounding -90 goal differential. Last weekend, it dropped another game against the Roughnecks, but it was bad. Calgary, visiting the Stealth’s home, won 26-11. That 26 is the most a team has scored all season. Politely put, it has been a very rough 20 weeks for Vancouver.
And Georgia can’t look at all that and get complacent, assume that Saturday’s game is already in hand. Both of Vancouver’s wins have come on the road and were by one goal, so maintaining a multi-goal lead is imperative. If the Stealth is playing for anything this weekend, it’s to be the spoiler and throw a wrench into the Swarm’s playoff push, a mighty big one. It’s hard to remain level against a team that gave up 26 GA last weekend and that you beat 16-12 way back on Jan. 27, but that’s key for the Swarm. Treat Vancouver like it’s the best team in the league and handle it appropriately. Afterwards, Georgia can shift focus northwards and close out the season Sunday, coming…
Full Circle with the Black Wolves
Georgia started the 2017-18 season in New England (simultaneously starting the NLL season) and will end the season there. And this is the game Georgia needs to win this weekend.
The Swarm has a lot working against it. Georgia has lost all four of the games in its two previous doubleheaders this season and dropped the season opener in Mohegan Sun Arena, 13-11. New England has won its last three games, holding Colorado and Rochester to only 6 goals each in the past two games. Don’t let the fact that it is 8th in GF/GAME (10.76), 8th in GA/GAME (13.29) and has a -43 goal differential fool you. The Black Wolves can claim home floor advantage in the East Division Finals with a win against the Swarm, and with how New England has been playing these last three weeks, Georgia has its work cut out for it.
Unfortunately for New England, that works both ways. The Swarm didn’t climb up from the bottom through sheer luck. It ascended through the rankings after getting everything to click in place. This isn’t the Swarm of 2017 that bowled opponents over week in and week out. This Swarm is scrappy and past caring about defending the cup. Georgia adopted the mentality of the underdog – a behavior that suits it better – and is acting like it never won the Champion’s Cup before, regaining that edge it needs to help close out games.
Poulin stopping shots with ease | Photo Credit: Garrett James