Matisz, 46, celebrating a goal | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
It’s finally here. The NLL Champion’s Cup.
A few people came out and said that the first game of the season for Georgia and Saskatchewan could be the preface to what we’d be seeing at the end of the season. Taking place oh so long ago on January 7, Georgia emerged the victor in an 18-10 win against two-time defending champion Saskatchewan. The Rush would lose its next game—against the Toronto Rock—before going on a league-best six-game win streak. Georgia started off 4-0 before its first loss. Saskatchewan finished the regular season 12-6; Georgia with the league-best record 13-5.
With so much time having passed between January 7 and now, a ton of lacrosse was played. Quite frankly, it’s difficult to anticipate what’s going to happen in this series. Saskatchewan is looking to go for a threepeat, but Georgia’s defense matches with the best of them and the offense is historically great. So, bluntly, who knows? Maybe we will after these 5 Quick Stings:
1. The Last Time They Met
Like I said earlier, Georgia bested Sask 18-10 on January 7. The first half was close, Georgia finishing the first 30 minutes up 8-7. Georgia would then outscore Sask 10-3 in the second half on way to its first win of 2017. Miles Thompson finished the night with five points (4G, 1A), Lyle Thompson a game-high eight points (2G, 6A), assistant captain Shayne Jackson with six points (4G, 2A), and Randy Staats had seven points (3G, 4A). The Swarm went 6-for-10 on power play opportunities, four of those in the first half.
Sask’s Mark Matthews led things for the Rush as he finished with five points (3G, 2A), Curtis Knight had four points (1G, 3A), and both Robert Church and Adam Jones tied with three points (2G, 1A) each.
Brodie MacDonald got the start in front of the net for Georgia, lasting for 21:36 min. before Mike Poulin was switched in and turned in a performance good enough for the win. Sask’s Tyler Carlson stayed between the pipes the whole game, earning the loss while making 33 saves. Sask’s usual goaltender Aaron Bold had been suspended for a game by the NLL due to an on-field altercation in a preseason game.
The night featured a Guinness World Record being set as all four Thompson Brothers (Jerome Thompson, Miles, and Lyle for Georgia and eldest Jeremy Thompson for Sask) played against each that night, a record for most siblings to play in a professional lacrosse game at the same time. Jerome finished with a goal and an assist while Jeremy recorded an assist and went 15-for-24 on faceoffs.
That’s just the beginning, because since then…
2. A LOT has Happened
For Georgia, the team set a ton of franchise records on the way to its first-ever league title courtesy of a 13-5 performance. Johnny Powless came back in February and provided a valuable left-side weapon that scored 23 goals in 10 games. Joel White was reinstated from the Holdout List, scooping up 67 loose balls and causing six turnovers in seven games. Miles and Staats had some down-time due to upper body injuries, and Lyle went through a “slump” in March. Then April came around and all was right as rain. Georgia scored 21 goals in back-to-back games to start the month off, recorded a 19.75 GF/GAME in the first four games of April, and saw its GA shrink every game (excluding Buffalo’s desperation blitz where it scored 16 goals before being eliminated from the playoffs).
Mentioned earlier, Sask dropped its second game of the season, this one against Toronto. This minor stumble was just that as Sask then went on a league-best six-game winning streak, finishing the first half with a 6-3 record. The team never lost back-to-back games after the first two, and outscored opponents in the last 16 games by 29 goals. Matthews recorded his third-straight season of over 100 points, and Church led the NLL in PPG with 21. GM and head coach Derek Keenan became the all-time wins leader in the NLL on the way to the Rush’s third-straight appearance in the Champion’s Cup, an appearance courtesy of reading the Colorado Mammoth the riot act through an 18-9 on the road and 11-10 victory at SaskTel Centre.
3. What Little Rivalry There Is
Georgia and Sask have only met once in the postseason. Politely, it was really bad for the Swarm as the Rush rolled over the home team 15-3 (yeah) in 2012. Since 2009, the two have butted heads 14 times in the regular season with the Rush having the series 8-6 in its favor. Except for 2009, the two regularly split the season series every year. Counting all the goals for in every game, playoffs included, Sask has scored 177 and Georgia 161. So while the two teams are just occasional blips on each other’s radars, that could change with a rivalry being formed through what is sure to be an exceptional Champion’s Cup.
As bad as that one playoff game between the two was, the…
4. Playoffs so far…
Have been exceptional and have culminated into the best possible matchup in 2017. Since January, this is how I’ve envisioned the Champion’s Cup, Georgia taking on Saskatchewan, having to best the best of the best for the Swarm’s first-ever Champion’s Cup. It would make the win that much sweeter.
And you know it won’t be easy. Granted Georgia and Sask swept their opponents—the Toronto Rock and Colorado Mammoth respectively—, but some trends on one team’s end haven’t been what were expected.
Let’s start with the expected. Sask is a great team, and Colorado fought them hard. Even though it got swept, the Mammoth were practically in both games. But the fourth quarter in Game 1 where Sask added nine insurance goals and the third quarter of Game 2 where it scored five goals to widen its lead at home really decided both games in Sask’s favor. With Game 1 an 18-9 blowout, Rush players dominate the scoring leaderboards in the playoffs. Four players have scored 10 points or more for Sask, led by Matthews and his 15 (4G, 11A).
Now for the “unexpected.” Georgia’s offense was seemingly sleeping for the first half of Game 1 where it only scored two goals, both of which came in the second quarter. But two things started working in Georgia’s favor: the defense smothered Toronto’s transition offense and the offense started methodically tearing Toronto apart, scoring nine goals in the final 30 minutes. In Game 2, the O kept up its high heat with three goals in the first three minutes of the game. Toronto couldn’t best Poulin in either contest as he made 81 saves throughout both games. Even with Chad Tutton going down with a season-ending injury in Game 1, the defense kept up its stalwart ways and pressed Toronto back all night.
Sask’s offensive numbers are skewed as Colorado practically melted in that fourth quarter of Game 1. And Georgia likes to take things easy when it has a comfortable lead at the end of a game by playing smart and limiting the opponent’s time of possession, which is why its numbers tapered down at the end of Game 2. But let’s face it: this game is ultimately going to be a showdown of…
5. Poulin vs. Bold
This isn’t the first time that Poulin and Bold have faced off in the postseason. The two goaltenders have seen each other eight times in the postseason since 2012—one of those games Poulin did not play in. Bold has won two championships in that time and earned the 2016 NLL Finals MVP. So through five years, here’s how they have matched up:
Bold w/ Rush
Poulin w/ Roughnecks
Their numbers are close, although the edge could certainly be given to Bold. But that’s in the past, so let’s look at their recent numbers this postseason:
Bold w/ Rush
Poulin w/ Swarm
From this, the edge goes to Poulin, mostly due to his insane .827 SV%. Toronto got off a number of quality shots against him, but Poulin came up big to give the Swarm a chance to come back in Game 1 of the East Division Finals and squash the Rock in Game 2 for the sweep.
He’ll tell you readily enough. Poulin wants this Champion’s Cup bad. And a familiar face on the opposite end of the floor is nothing more than one of six obstacles in the way of that win.
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