Two of the hottest teams in the National Lacrosse League will meet on Sunday afternoon with the East Division title on the line. The New England Black Wolves are riding a three game winning streak while the Georgia Swarm come in winning five straight and six of their last seven.
Both teams clinched a playoff spot on Saturday night when Georgia beat Vancouver and Toronto helped New England by losing to Colorado. Less than 24 hours later, the two newest playoff teams will meet on the floor at Mohegan Sun Arena to battle it out for the top spot in the East. This will be the third matchup this season between the Black Wolves and Swarm, with the two splitting the season series to this point.
In only a few weeks since the Black Wolves last played in front of their home crowd, they have gone front battling to stay alive to now, one win away from clinching their first East Division regular season title. The winner of Sunday evening’s finale will give either New England or Georgia the top seed and a first round bye.
The crazy, playoff picture has finally come more into focus with Sunday’s game being the final game of the regular season in the NLL. The ups and downs of the Black Wolves’ season have seen them go from first to last and last to first multiple times and the different playoff scenarios from this weekend were no different. Before Toronto’s loss on Saturday night, New England saw their current situation where they will win the East with a victory but they also had a scenario where they could have been eliminated with a loss and a Toronto win.
“There’s never been a weekend like this before in the NLL going into the final week,” Head coach Glenn Clark said. This has truly been whirlwind season for Clark’s crew who has welcomed many new faces into their lineup this season as well as seeing former captain and two-time NLL MVP, Shawn Evans, be traded away in February.
One of those new faces was goaltender Aaron Bold who was acquired in an offseason trade with Saskatchewan. Bold has set career highs in saves on three different occasions this season, including last weekend with a 59 save performance in Rochester. Bold leads the NLL with 680 saves and has really come into a zone as of late after showing some inconsistency early in his transition into a Black Wolves uniform.
A familiar face in the New England lineup is Kevin Crowley who up until last game in Rochester, scored in 35 straight games for the Black Wolves. Crowley leads the NLL with 49 goals on the season as he looks to start a new streak on Sunday against Georgia. Midseason acquisitions Johnny Powless, Stephan Leblanc, and Callum Crawford have been huge for the Black Wolves offense. Powless had a key four point performance last weekend and will be facing his former Georgia teammates for the first time on Sunday.
The Swarm offense is definitely a force to be reckoned with as Bold will have his hands full with their consistent wave of offensive threats. The most obvious threat is the reigning NLL MVP, Lyle Thompson who is fifth in the league with 40 goals. Thompson’s supporting cast is not to be forgotten and Clark is making sure that he recognizes the threat that the rest of their offense possesses.
“You can’t pay too much attention to him (Lyle Thompson). You have to be schematic in your defense, but if you pay too much attention to him then you’ve really picked your poison because their whole left side with (Jesse) King, (Shayne) Jackson, and Jordan Hall, and even on the right side with (Randy) Staats and Miles (Thompson), they’re all goal scorers. I don’t think you can get too focused one guy, it’s going to be more about the group and how you scheme about their whole offense.”
Face off is 5 p.m. on Sunday evening at Mohegan Sun Arena with the winner earning first place in the East and a first round bye in the playoffs.