By Ray Lilley | NLL.com Staff Writer
Last weekend’s road win in Toronto meant big things for New England as they started the second half of their season. A win on Sunday at home against the 1st place, Georgia Swarm (7-2) could be even bigger for the Black Wolves (4-6).
Following the disappointment and frustration of their 0-3 start, New England has battled back to within striking distance of a playoff spot. However with only eight games remaining, time is running out for the Black Wolves.
A win Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena accompanied with a Toronto loss on Saturday would bring New England to within a half game of 2nd place and playoff spot. After Sunday’s game the Black Wolves then play against the last place team in the East followed by the last place team in the West before a home matchup with Toronto. This five game stretch that started last weekend in Toronto looks to be the make it or break it point of the season for New England.
Another boost for the Black Wolves could be right around the corner, perhaps as quickly as this weekend. New England captain and leading scorer, Shawn Evans could be back as soon as Sunday after missing the last game in Toronto with what is now officially called a sprained ankle.
The MRI on Evans’ ankle came back with no fracture so Head Coach Glenn Clark is calling it a sprain and while he could not give a percentage, he did say that there is a possibility that he could return on Sunday. “On Saturday, when we get down to Mohegan, Jeremy (head trainer) is going to have a look at him, test his strength, test his mobility, determine where he’s at then make a decision for this weekend,” Clark said. “I can’t give a percentage. I don’t really know. There is a possibility for sure, I just couldn’t tell you 60-40, 70-30. It would really depend on how he responds this week and what he looks like on Saturday when Jeremy takes a look at him. A positive sign is that it’s not a break, so it’s a sooner rather than later type of thing.”
In the absence of Evans, Clark and the Black Wolves offense need other guys to step up. In past games it was youngsters, Reilly O’Connor and Seth Oakes but last weekend in Toronto, it was the Buchanans, Kevin and Kyle and Kevin Crowley. Kevin Buchanan led all scorers with four goals and three assists while Crowley netted two goals and four assists and Kyle Buchanan added four helpers.
Another key for New England was the addition of veteran Chad Culp back into the lineup following a nagging injury. “He is another guy that provides energy,” Clark said. “His contributions don’t always show up on the stat line but he’ll get repossessions and he’ll create space for guys. He creates energy and pace in our offense which will make the group collectively better. Having him inserted back into the group was big for the overall game from an offensive standpoint.”
New England is also looking for their goaltender, reigning National Lacrosse League Goaltender of the Year, Evan Kirk, to make saves and keep the opposition from gaining any type of momentum. Kirk did just that against Toronto with timely saves along with making the stops he had to make as part of his 47 of 56 save performance last weekend.
“He was strong again. I think he has been strong all year but the real benchmark of a goalie and a next level goalie is timely saves,” Clark said of his netminder. “He certainly had a few of those where they had some opportunities when the game was close, or even when they went ahead by one. He made the timely saves to keep us in the game so that we had the opportunity to do what we did.”
One big task for Kirk on Sunday will be stopping the Thompson brothers. Especially the youngest of the three, Lyle, who is only two points behind the league lead in points. Georgia’s high octane offense and aggressive transition is something that New England will be looking to slow down. Kirk and the Black Wolves defense needs to be ready to go from the first face-off, unlike their last afternoon home game two weeks ago.
New England’s offense has caught their stride and the pressure is now on their defense to keep the fast, talented, Georgia offense from starting an offensive shootout on Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena. A big key to the New England defense will be taking away time and space from Georgia’s talented scorers which, in return, should help create quality opportunities for the Black Wolves on the other end.
Sunday’s game is at 1:00 P.M. EST as the Black Wolves celebrate Youth Lacrosse Day at Mohegan Sun Arena.