The Georgia Swarm (15-5) bested the Toronto Rock (10-11) on Saturday, May 20 to the tune of 13-9 to secure its first-ever NLL Champion’s Cup appearance. With the win, Georgia won the East Division Finals against Toronto 2-0 in front of a world-wide audience on Twitter.
Game 1 of the Champion’s Cup—best of three—will be hosted by Georgia at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena on Sunday, June 4. Faceoff is set for 5:05 p.m. ET. Lower level seats start as low as $20. Tickets are available by calling 844-4-GASWARM or by visiting GeorgiaSwarm.com/Playoff. Georgia will take on the winner of tonight’s West Division Finals game, either the Saskatchewan Rush or Colorado Mammoth. Game 2 will take place on the road, and, if needed, Game 3 will be back at The Hive on Sunday, June 18 at 5:05 p.m. ET.
Excellent defense was the name of the game again tonight, but Georgia’s potent offense woke up early and stung quick, exploding with a three-goal run within the first three minutes. Toronto matched Georgia almost goal-for-goal after that, but the Swarm defense did a great job holding the Rock below double digit goals for the second game in-a-row.
“Our defense gets overlooked,” head coach Ed Comeau said. “People talk about our offense because they’ve been so good all year. Defense takes some time to get together and figure stuff out. They’ve been getting better, especially the last third of the season. We did a great job, and Toronto has some pretty dangerous right-handed scorers. We held those guys to one goal tonight from the right side. That was huge, and Mike Poulin has been strong for us all year and continued with another great performance tonight.”
Assistant captain Shayne Jackson got the hat trick and recorded two assists, Randy Staats finished with seven points (2G, 5A), and MVP candidate Lyle Thompson ended the night with six points (2G, 4A). Poulin was phenomenal between the pipes, blocking 42 shots and finishing with a 9 GAA and an .823 SV%.
Georgia scored a goal a minute to start Game 2 off, courtesy of Staats, Miles Thompson, and Kiel Matisz. Toronto would put two on the board from Reid Reinholdt and Brodie Merrill.
“It was huge,” Lyle said about the run. “It set the tempo. Last week, offensively, we weren’t satisfied with how we did. We knew we didn’t play very well. Our defense saved us last week, and we wanted to return the favor and come out hot. We knew the first minute of the game was the biggest minute of the game.”
Lyle scored his first goal of the playoffs while the Swarm was man-down, and 2016 NLL Draft No. 4 overall Bryan Cole received a beautiful pass from Staats less than a minute later to widen the lead back to two with a laser to the top left that chased Brandon Miller out from the pipes. Nick Rose replaced him. Stephan Leblanc and Reinholdt capped the scoring in the quarter, Georgia leading 5-4.
The two teams matched each other throughout the second quarter. Staats and Hall started the quarter off with goals of their own to widen the lead to three. Kasey Beirnes shortened that lead for a while until Jackson managed to find the back of the net with an extra attacker. Kieran McArdle would score less than a minute later, but Jackson had the final say in the quarter. After 30 minutes, Georgia went to the locker rooms up 9-6.
“At the half, we came in and said ‘Toronto is making a push right now. They’re getting over the top,’ meaning when they come up from the side boards, they’re getting to the middle of the floor,” Poulin said. “So, Toronto made a big push. We made one of our adjustments at the half; we have to eliminate them getting those open looks on top, and we did a good job of preventing them from getting good scoring lanes. That made everybody’s work a lot easier.”
The third quarter was a miniature version of Game 1 and featured stellar defense on both ends. Poulin blocked 11 shots and only allowed one goal, the hat trick from Reinholdt. Rose made 15 saves and also only allowed one goal, a wicked underhand whip from Lyle.
“That was a last resort kind of play,” Lyle said about his goal. “Jackson tried to draw it to the middle and lost control of the ball. I saw it, timed it so I could grab it. I knew the shot clock was a little low, so I grabbed the ball and put it on the net. I know that Rosie steps out quite a bit, so I knew I could reach around him.”
A resounding Poulin chant started off the fourth quarter and persisted the entire 15 minutes. Reinholdt scored his fourth goal of the night to put Toronto back within two, the score 10-8. Dan Lintner hit Cole and earned a 5-min. body check major penalty. Jackson was able to take advantage and widen the lead back to three, then Johnny Powless scored immediately after Lintner’s penalty was up.
Toronto repeated its strategy from Game 1, pulling the goaltender to go with the extra attacker for the last few minutes to try and squeak out a win. Challen Rogers was able to make an unassisted goal, but history repeated again. Off a pass from team captain Jordan MacIntosh, Jordan Hall made an unassisted empty netter eight seconds after Rogers’ goal. Georgia killed the clock, winning the game 13-9.
Georgia will now welcome whomever wins tonight between the Saskatchewan Rush and Colorado Mammoth. Saskatchewan is currently up in the series.
“We have a lot of guys in the locker room where it’s their first opportunity to get there,” Comeau said. “Everyone’s happy for the Arlotta family, all the blood, sweat, and tears—among other things—that they’ve put into this team for them to have an opportunity to have a team go to the championship. There’s no team in the league that starts the season saying they’re happy to get to a championship game. We’re going to go there and do our best. We have a lot of work to do over these two weeks.”
“We came here for a reason,” Poulin said. “I came here for a reason, and it’s to hoist a Champion’s Cup. Two more games, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Play of the Game:
Poulin went down hurt between the pipes in the fourth quarter. He stayed between the pipes but was clearly in pain. He soldiered on for the rest of the game. Toronto was able to get three shots off back-to-back-to-back, but Poulin hopped back and forth and stopped all of them. The second block had him push himself backwards and block the shot with his back.