For the second straight season, the defending world champion Georgia Swarm (11-7) has claimed the top seed in the East Division, winning 16-11 against the New England Black Wolves (9-9) on Sunday in Mohegan Sun Arena. Georgia won the East Division title after climbing out of last place with six straight wins.
Sunday night’s game decided who between Georgia and New England would finish first in the East Division and claim home floor advantage in the East Division Championship. With its loss, New England drops to third in the East and will turn around quick to play the Rochester Knighthawks on Friday in the East Division Semifinals.
The winner of Friday’s contest will advance to the winner-takes-all East Division Championship against the Swarm at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday, May 12. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET. Fans can get their tickets at GeorgiaSwarm.com/Playoffs.
After downing Vancouver 11-10 on Saturday night, the Swarm had a quick turnaround before today’s game in New England. The travel and back-to-back did not faze the defending champs, and Georgia used strong performances from Lyle Thompson and Mike Poulin to emerge with its sixth straight win. Lyle set a new career-high in goals with 46, and Poulin played in his 200th career game.
“We’re playing well,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “This is a great time of year to be playing well. Every game’s a different game. The team’s that are playing at this time of year are just as desperate and playing as intense as we are. I like where we’re at, the way we’re playing, but we’re in to one game finals. So, we’re going to need to be at our best and play a full sixty minutes.”
Randy Staats kicked the game off with two goals, both fed to him from Lyle and one was a shorthand goal. Georgia grabbed three more goals to come out storming in hostile territory and jump to a 5-0 lead. Kyle Buchanan managed to get New England on the board, but the first 15 minutes ended with the Swarm up 5-1.
Lyle playing aggressive | Photo Credit: New England Black Wolves
The second quarter nearly undid the defending champs as New England managed to tie things up at the half. Lyle scored his second goal of the night in transition, and Shayne Jackson scored his first of the night off a feed from Kiel Matisz. The Black Wolves finished the half with a trio of goals. Both teams were tied at seven goals apiece.
“We came back in the locker room at halftime, regrouped and said, ‘This is it. We have half an hour to play and punch our own ticket to where we want,’” Swarm assistant captain Jason Noble said. “We knew going into the game that it was going to be on us to decide where we finished. I think that motivated everyone on our team.”
For the second night in a row, Georgia shook off a bad second quarter and came out firing. Lyle recorded his hat trick before Jesse King worked his way towards goal and scored off a pass from goaltender Mike Poulin. Buchanan responded to put New England back within one goal.
Georgia found itself with a penalty shot and elected to let Lyle take the shot. Lyle ran from west to east, drawing Black Wolves goaltender Aaron Bold with him before a quick jump at the crease and reaching stick managed to net the ball behind Bold. Back up by two goals, Jordan Hall netted a pair to close out the third quarter. Georgia was up 12-8 with 15 minutes left in the game.
Stephan Leblanc stopped the bleeding with a goal, but it was for only 45 seconds. Matisz bookended a Jackson goal, widening the Swarm’s lead to six goals with 10:15 min. left. Kevin Crowley netted a power play goal for the Black Wolves, and Miles Thompson responded with a whip of his own to re-establish the Swarm’s six goal lead. Colton Watkinson scored a shorthand goal to cap the scoring on the night. Georgia proceeded to run out the clock and emerged victorious in the second game of its doubleheader weekend, 16-11.
“We played with energy,” Comeau said. “This arena plays a little smaller. Spacing is really important, and we did a good job on spacing. We did a good job on setting picks and using our speed to get around, creating opportunities. When we did that, we took advantage of it.”
Lyle led the team with eight points (4G, 4A) and set a new career-high in goals with 46. Staats was close behind with seven points (2G, 5A), and Miles and Matisz each posted five points (2G, 3A). In his 200th career game, Poulin made 41 saves on 52 SOG. His 11th win this season saw him post a .778 SV%. The Swarm defense over the past nine games has averaged 10.22 GA/GAME.
“We’re just on the same page,” Noble said about the Swarm defense. “That’s the main thing. If you have three guys out there, two guys doing their own thing, that’s not a cohesive unit. We have trust in each other to do their job back there. We’re excited to play every weekend. I think that’s the main thing. We get together; we’re excited to play with each other.”
Buchanan led New England with a nine-point (4G, 5A) night, followed by Leblanc and his seven points (2G, 5A). Bold took the loss after stopping 32 shots, finishing the night with a .667 SV%.
“It feels really good to win it on the last weekend, the last night on a back-to-back with tough travel,” Comeau said about the win. “It really, really showed the desire and the character of our group. That word gets used a lot, but there are a lot of reasons for us not to get win tonight, but the guys rose above and played great. Happy to come out of here with a win.”
Play of the Game:
Play of the Game goes to the Swarm’s playoff push in the second half. After starting the season 5-7 and sitting in last place in the East, the Swarm went 6-0 the rest of the way to claim its second consecutive division title. Home floor advantage in the postseason is huge, and Georgia’s strong play in the tightly contested East Division allowed it to claim that advantage for itself.
Laying it all out on the floor | Photo Credit: New England Black Wolves