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Swarm buzz by Rock to beeline to East Division Final

04/28/2013, 2:30pm EDT
By Justin Millerson, Rock beat writer for NLL.com

Five players score 3+ goals to key Minnesota's 20-11 road win over Toronto

The Minnesota Swarm, who crossed over to the East Division as the last team in the postseason, upset the top-seeded Toronto Rock with a decisive 20-11 road win in their first-round East Division Semifinal playoff game at Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon.

“We were embarrassingly bad today,” said Rock head coach Troy Cordingley. “It’s going to be a tough six or seven months off, but we definitely need to change the direction here."

The Swarm’s offensive ferocity was spread out over the entire 60 minutes as Toronto allowed four or more goals in each of the four quarters. After a reasonable first frame that had the Rock down 5-4, Minnesota started to pull away after scoring four-straight goals to start the second. 

“The game got away from us,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle. “At the end of the day, it comes down to desperation and they were the more desperate team. They executed well.”

After a back-and-forth first 10 minutes of the game, the Swarm’s Jordan Macintosh, Jay Card and Shayne Jackson each scored in a span of 1:18 to put the Swarm up 5-3 late in the first quarter. Toronto forward Kasey Beirnes capped off the frame with 1:41 remaining to shrink Toronto’s deficit to 5-4.

The second quarter was one dominated completely by Minnesota’s offence and could be argued as the eventual difference in the game. In a span of 7:50, Minnesota scored four-straight goals to begin the second frame and push their lead to 9-4. During the run, Jackson scored his second and third goals of the game followed by tallies from Card and Benesch. At the 11:44 mark, Toronto’s Scott Evans, with his second goal on the afternoon, ended Minnesota runs to shrink the deficit to 9-5. In the final seconds of the half however, Benesch potted his hat trick goal to put the Swarm up 10-5 heading into the half.

The third quarter had the Rock and the Swarm trade three goals a side in a span of 10:07, but with 0.8 seconds remaining in the frame, the Swarm's Josh Gillam scored one of his three goals on the afternoon extending Minnesota’s lead to 14-8.

Within the first 1:17 of the final quarter, Minnesota threw the knockout blow as Macintosh, Matisz and Jackson continued the goal parade. With 13:43 left in the game, the Rock were down 17-8. The two teams traded another three goals each before the final buzzer.

“You are going to be running into offenses like [Minnesota’s] every night and you have to be ready for it. We weren’t today,” said Rock goalie Nick Rose.

After falling to the Colorado Mammoth last week and consequently being handed the tough task to face the league’s top seed in the playoffs, the Swarm responded with arguably their best performance of the season.

“We did a heck of a lot of work to make sure we knew what Toronto was going to throw at us,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “I think our guys took it to them.”

Despite giving up 65 shots on goal, Minnesota’s defence was active in boxing Toronto out of the high-scoring areas – a key part to the Swarm’s game plan.

“We knew we were going to give the shots up, but we wanted to make sure we kept them outside, we wanted to keep Billings off the scoresheet as much as we could,” said Sullivan.

Five Swarm players (Benesch, Macintosh, Matisz, Jackson, and Gillam) scored three goals or more on the afternoon, a scoring balance evidently too much for Toronto’s defence.

“We played athletic, that’s what our team [is best at],” said MacIntosh, who finished the afternoon with six points (4+2). “We all ran the entire game and I think that tired them out.”

After Minnesota had plans to start goalie Evan Kirk in net, a last minute change in the guard had youngster Tyler Carlson playing between the pipes.

“[Kirk] was sick and wasn’t feeling good before the game…Carlson ended up stepping up and was ready to go,” said Sullivan.

Carlson, in his first full postseason game, made 54 saves on 65 Rock shots for an impressive .831 save percentage.

Toronto goalie Nick Rose struggled in net allowing 18 goals on 51 shots for a sub-par .647 save percentage over 53:24 of play. Backup goalie Zack Boychuk relieved Rose briefly in the second half and allowed two goals on four shots.

The Swarm’s Ryan Benesch (3+6) led all scorers with nine points on the afternoon while Shayne Jackson (4+3) followed up seven points of his own.

On Toronto’s side, Garrett Billings (0+5) and Colin Doyle (3+2) led all Toronto scorers with five points each in the loss.

Swarm transition player Andrew Watt suffered a lower-body injury in the third quarter.

Minnesota will travel to take on the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks next weekend at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday, May 4 at 4 p.m. ET for the East Division Final, with the winner advancing to the 2013 NLL Championship Game. Watch the game live exclusively on CBS Sports Network.

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