The Toronto Rock (5-1) had a record-setting defensive performance by shutting down the Minnesota Swarm (3-3) with a 16-4 road win in front of a crowd of 8,941 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Friday night. With the Swarm loss, the Rock strengthened their lead atop the East Division while allowing the fewest goals in a road game in the team’s history.
The Swarm took an early lead in the first quarter when Callum Crawford (1+1) followed up his game-winning overtime performance last week with the first goal of the game this week. The first quarter ended with a tie at two, in a seemingly even-paced game.
“They came out very hard with lots of pressure and we didn’t handle it as well as I would have liked,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “We’re coming off an off week and their at home and coming off a big win themselves – so there were a lot of things going against us. We just wanted to stay in the game in the first quarter and that’s what we did. It was 2-2 and we settled in, got our legs, and went from there.”
The second quarter brought a chaotic storm of offense from the Rock, who scored 13 unanswered goals into the third quarter, the biggest scoring run by one team in the NLL since the Roughnecks scored 15-straight goals in a playoff game in 2009. It was the longest regular season scoring run in the league since 2008.
“I think when we got on that run, it was a combination of things. It was goals from the back end, it was transition goals, we ran the ball up the floor, we just kind of got on a roll there,” Lovell said. “They had some great looks and (goalie) Brandon Miller made some extraordinary saves there. It could have changed the complexion of the game.”
The nine goals by Toronto in the second quarter were the most by the Rock in any quarter since April 2000.
From then on, it was still all Rock. Stephan Leblanc led the way on offense with nine points (4+5) while Brett Hickey (3+2) and Kasey Beirnes (3+2) were both strong offense contributors. Toronto netminder Brandon Miller saved 38 of 42 shots, with four goals being the fewest allowed in a complete game in the veteran goalie’s 15-year NLL career.
“The game started off pretty well and I think we were just really outshooting them,” Leblanc said. “When you’re defense is playing really well like that and holding them to the numbers that they did, and our shots eventually started to fall – it kind of broke their backs a little bit.”
Minnesota’s only goal in the second half was by Logan Schuss (1+1) in the third quarter. Zach Higgins played 31:03 minutes and saved 30 of 41 shots. Brodie MacDonald took over in the third quarter and had 10 stops on 15 shots on goal.
“That’s very disgraceful for us to come to our home center and give an opportunity like that back to Toronto,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “You’re fighting for first place and really, respectability in the East Division. They took advantage of every opportunity and they played like a number one team.”
With a 16-4 win and the best record in the NLL, the Rock are looking to continue their dominant season as they build on the successes of each game.
“I like the feeling in our dressing room right now,” Lovell said. “I like the things that we’re doing well. We did a lot of little things and those are habits and character that we’re building with this team and it’s going to continue.”
Swarm starting goalie Zach Higgins finished with 30 stops of 41 shots on goal. Brodie MacDonald made an appearance with 10 saves on 15 shots.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Stephan Leblanc
2) Brandon Miller
3) Kasey Beirnes
The Swarm have a chance for retribution on Saturday night, when the two teams face off again, this time at Air Canada Centre in Toronto at 7 p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE (United States) and TSN.ca (Canada) starting at 7 p.m. ET.
“We’ll focus on what worked and if we can replicate that tomorrow, it’ll be a fun night,” said Leblanc. “They’ll be ready to go tomorrow, though. These are short memory games.”
“They’re going to come back and play extremely hard tomorrow night,” Lovell said. “We’re the team in first place right now and we want to stay there.”
“Respect your opponent and care enough to prepare yourself to play the game for 60 minutes,” Sullivan said of his expectation for the Swarm tomorrow night. “Play within our system and play it with some charisma and with some energy.”
Story by Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Scott Pierson.