The last time these two teams met in the National Lacrosse League playoffs, the then Minnesota Swarm laid a 20-11 shocker on a Toronto Rock club that had finished first overall in the league in 2013. This time, when Georgia (13-5) and Toronto (9-9) open their East Division finals Saturday night at 7 pm at the Air Canada Centre, it’s the Swarm who are the top overall seed.
Georgia is no stranger to putting up 20 or more goals—having done so in three of their final six regular season games this year—although it would be a surprise if they were able to do so against a Rock team that was one goal away from allowing the fewest in the league this year.
Of course, Toronto can score, too. The Rock put up 19 goals in their regular season finale then 18 in dispatching the New England Black Wolves in the first round of the playoffs last week. That makes for an intriguing matchup that could turn into a track meet or could be a defensive struggle, especially given that both teams have excellent goalies.
Which excellent goalie starts for Toronto is one of the biggest questions heading into Game 1. Nick Rose followed up a 2016 that saw him as a finalist for NLL Goalie of the Year with another solid season, but when he had a slow start last week he was pulled in favour of Brandon Miller. The veteran Miller had played only 64 minutes in the regular season after returning from hip surgery. He showed no rust against the Black Wolves, stopping 30 of 35 shots.
The other crease poses no uncertainty. Mike Poulin has been a big factor in Georgia’s evolution into the league’s top seed. The 2012 GOTY is still looking to add a Champions Cup to his resume, though, after coming achingly close with Calgary in 2014.
The East finals feature plenty of star power. Georgia’s Lyle Thompson is the scoring champion and a leading contender for Most Valuable Player. Toronto’s Tom Schreiber is a virtual lock for Rookie of the Year and could garner some MVP votes, too.
Schreiber isn’t the only rookie playing a major role for his team. Latrell Harris has been a revelation on defence while having his 19th birthday during the season. Challen Rogers and Jordan Magnusson have been solid in the back end for the Rock. Kieran McArdle has gradually looked more comfortable playing indoors and Reid Reinholdt started the season on the practice squad but now looks like a veteran with his knack for scoring big goals.
Georgia’s freshman group are all part of the team’s commitment to getting bigger and more athletic out the back door. Bryan Cole and Connor Sellars have lived up to their top-10 draft selections while second-rounder Leo Stouros has been sound while drawing in to about half of the Swarm’s games.
When they met in Toronto on February 17, it took a goal by Shayne Jackson with four seconds remaining to get the Swarm to overtime, then just 46 seconds of the fifth quarter for a Johnny Powless goal to give Georgia a 13-12 win. Back in Georgia on March 24, the Rock returned the favour. Reinholdt forced the extra frame with a tying goal 62 seconds from the end of regulation then potted the winner just 44 seconds into overtime.
So, to summarize: two regular-season overtime games, excellent goaltending, tough defence and talented scorers. Everything points to a great series. Make sure to catch Game 1 on NLLTV.com.