With all five East Division teams in the hunt for three postseason spots, it all comes down to the final weekend of the 2017-18 NLL season. By Sunday night, everyone will know which three East teams continue playing into May and which two teams come up short.
The defending champion Georgia Swarm (9-7) welcomes the Vancouver Stealth (2-15) to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday, April 28 for Fan Appreciation Night. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET. The following day, Georgia quickly heads north for the series deciding game against the New England Black Wolves (9-8) on Sunday, April 29. Faceoff is set for 5:00 p.m.
Fan Appreciation Night is presented by Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating, and early arriving fans will receive a Swarm Team Poster. Award-winning band Lifehouse will perform during halftime and postgame in the Atlanta Classic Cars Mercedes-Benz Goal Zone Club. Fans can get tickets at GeorgiaSwarm.com/Fan or by calling 844-4-GASWARM. The game will be streamed at NLLTV.com and aired on the radio on Atlanta Sports X 1230 AM/106.3 FM.
Georgia has partnered with Atlanta Hawks guard Kent Bazemore and his ARMS Foundation for the Swarm’s regular season finale. Through a special ticket link online, the Swarm will donate $5 per ticket purchased for April 28 to Bazemore’s ARMS Foundation.
The Swarm had last weekend off but became the sole possessor of first place in the East Division after New England beat Rochester. As the only NLL team with two games this weekend, Georgia can solidify its grasp as the No. 1 seed in the East with two wins. A victory against Vancouver or New England guarantees the Swarm a playoff spot.
“Everyone’s aware that there’s a lot riding on it, not just for us but for every team in the East,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “It’s truly a playoff atmosphere for the whole division, which is pretty rare to have a final weekend where every team is in consideration, multiple teams can finish first or finish out. It means a lot of focus; it means a lot of intensity. It’s going to be a great weekend of lacrosse.”
Georgia is counting on the continued strong performance of Lyle Thompson (40G, 35A), who leads the team in points and has scored 18 goals in the past four games. Assistant captain Shayne Jackson sits behind Lyle in points with 74 (28G, 46A). Randy Staats, coming off an eight-point game against Saskatchewan, has 61 points (28G, 33A), and Jesse King (25G, 35A) and Kiel Matisz (14G, 46A) round out the top five scorers with 60 points each.
Goaltender Mike Poulin has been strong between the pipes for Georgia. He has played in every Swarm game this season and sports an 11.84 GAA and a .772 SV%. The strong defense in front of Poulin has hit its stride in the second half of the season. The team has not allowed an opposing team to score more than 12 goals in the past seven games and is averaging 10.14 GA/GAME during that span.
The Swarm starts the weekend off with a rematch against Vancouver. The two teams met in British Columbia on Jan. 27, and Georgia won 16-12 against a Stealth team that went winless at home this season. Jackson led the team with nine points (2G, 7A) that night.
Vancouver has only won on the road this season and both times by one goal. Corey Small leads the team with 73 points (26G, 47A), followed by Logan Schuss (26G, 35A) and Rhys Duch (17G, 44A). It has been a revolving door between the pipes for the Stealth goaltenders. Eric Penney has spent the most time in front of the net for Vancouver, and in 613:13 min. of action, the third-year player has a 14.97 GAA and a .744 SV%.
“We’re all aware of where Vancouver is, but we also know that they have good lacrosse players down there,” Comeau said. “Although there might not be anything on the line for them in terms of playoffs, every lacrosse player in this league will tell you every time you go out there that they’re going to give their best. We know that they’re going to show up and this is a way for them to try and end on a high note.”
Following the results of Saturday’s game, Georgia has a quick turnaround to make it up to New England. The final of three meetings between New England and Georgia will be the NLL Twitter Game of the Week. Fans can catch the game live on Twitter at live.Twitter.com/NLL.
Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
Georgia and New England have each won a game against the other. The Black Wolves took the season opener with a 13-11 home win, and Georgia retaliated months later with a 17-12 victory.
Sunday’s game will be the final piece of the puzzle that solves the mystery of the East Division standings. If New England wins, it will be in first place at 10-8. (Full list of the postseason scenarios available on GeorgiaSwarm.com)
New England is led by Kevin Crowley and his 72 points (49G, 23A). His 49 goals are good for the most in the NLL. Goaltender Aaron Bold has been sharp over the past three games, and he and the Black Wolves defense held Rochester and Colorado to only six goals each in their last two games. Bold has a 12.28 GAA and a .781 SV%.
Even though Sunday’s game looms large on the horizon, Georgia will have to remain measured and handle the task that is Vancouver first before shifting focus to the final game of the regular season. The Swarm’s final goal of finishing 11-7 can only be achieved one game at a time.
“Every team in the league wants to do the best they can, but 11-7 for us starts with 10-7,” Comeau said. “We need to be focused on what we do Saturday night against Vancouver, and then we’ll worry about what our record will be by Sunday at 7 o’clock. We’ll worry about it at that time.”