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First NLL game of 2018 features finalists from 2017 Champion’s Cup

Getting that first win of the season for the Georgia Swarm (1-2) was imperative. The team needs momentum for its quick turnaround as it welcomes another tough opponent to the Infinite Energy Arena this Saturday, Jan. 6 in the Saskatchewan Rush (2-0). Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.

Fans can watch Georgia and Saskatchewan take each other on LIVE via NLLTV.com.

This will be the first official meeting between the two teams since June 2017 when Georgia swept Saskatchewan in the Champion’s Cup Finals for its first-ever championship in franchise history while simultaneously preventing the Rush’s bid for a three-peat as NLL champions.

While the two teams did meet in the preseason, it was a one-sided affair. Taking place at SaskTel Centre, the Rush put on a show for the home crowd and bested the Swarm 24-9.

Once the regular season started, Saskatchewan kept up that pace, defeating the Toronto Rock 17-9 and the New England Black Wolves 24-11. The Rush offense leads the league in GF/GAME with 20.5. Mark Matthews stands atop the Rush leaderboard in points with 18 (7G, 11A) while Ben McIntosh has found the back of the net 10 times in two games.

Known for being one of the best defensive units in the league, the Rush defense has been notably more aggressive in front of offseason addition goaltender Evan Kirk, who has a 10.00 GAA and a .778 SV% due to his 70 saves.

“Their D is based upon consistency and dictating to offenses,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “We will do our best to try to control our movement with and without having the ball to create good scoring chances on Kirk.

The renewed focus and edge Saskatchewan is showing on the floor is purposeful as GM and head coach Derek Keenan did not want to start another season off slow nor have the Rush lose that edge at any point in a game.

“It really felt like last year there were times during the season, and it really showed in the Finals, that we lost our edge a little bit on defense,” Keenan said. “There were times where we didn’t play full shifts and [the ball] ended up in the net, and it’s really evident in the Finals against Georgia where we gave up 18 and 15 in those games, which is really uncharacteristic of our group.”

Georgia started the 2017-18 season off slow with back-to-back losses to the New England Black Wolves and Colorado Mammoth. Last Saturday, the Swarm seemed to regain its footing after a 14-11 victory over the previously undefeated Rochester Knighthawks.

Forward Jesse King continued his strong return after missing the 2017 season due to an offseason injury by scoring four goals. After a six point (3G, 3A) performance on Saturday, Lyle Thompson leads the Swarm offense with 17 points (6G, 11A).

“We’re pretty familiar with them,” Keenan said about the Swarm offense. “One thing, an advantage probably to both teams, we play very similarly on offense. We had a hard time handling that last year, though. So, we need to play a little smarter and bring back that tenacity and that edge that we have been known for for so long on the defensive end.”

A 37-save game earned goaltender Mike Poulin his first win of the season while lowering his GAA to 12.33 and slightly raising his SV% to .757.

Even with the win, there are still some aspects of Georgia’s game that need work. Scoring in transition and while on the power play have been issues so far this season. The Swarm scored only once on eight power play opportunities last Saturday.

“I thought our offense was much better, but we need to capitalize on our excellent scoring opportunities,” Comeau said. “Our power play was not good, and scoring even a few goals there would have got the score closer to a number we saw last year. We are continuing to work on our offense and our timing. We will need to be good against Sask D and Evan Kirk.”

With the honor of being the first NLL game of 2018, Georgia and Saskatchewan meet Saturday with a lot to prove to themselves and the rest of the NLL. A win for the Swarm gets it to .500 and gives the team more confidence it can take with it for its road series. A win for the Rush gives it its best start since 2014 and momentum to potentially hand the undefeated Colorado Mammoth its first loss of the season.