The Georgia Swarm and Rochester Knighthawks spent a significant portion of the 2017-18 season in the cellar of the East Division.
Yet when all was said and done, the two had seized the top two spots in the East and will now meet on Saturday, May 12 to figure out which team advances to the NLL Finals and which team’s season ends. Faceoff at Infinite Energy Arena is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.
In the East Division Semifinals, Rochester used its strong defense and transition game to eliminate the New England Black Wolves from the playoffs with a 15-11 win. Joe Resetarits led the team with six points (2G, 4A), Austin Shanks netted four goals and Brad Gillies recorded a hat trick and tacked on an assist. Between the pipes, Matt Vinc made 49 saves on 60 SOG to finish the night with an .817 SV%.
Rochester’s strong transition performance and consistent defense has not gone unnoticed by the Swarm.
“Rochester has shown over the last part of the season that they’ve got some really good transition players,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “They run the floor and create opportunities not just for themselves to get shots, but also for their offensive players coming off the bench. Certainly an area we’re aware of. Being successful in defending a team against their transition is not done by a single person or any one group of people. It’s a full team commitment.”
Georgia, having earned a bye week due to it being the top seed in the East Division, used the time to recuperate and prepare for its eventual opponent.
The Swarm’s defense with goaltender Mike Poulin was stalwart in the second half of the season, posting a 10.22 GA/GAME. Poulin established a new career-high in single season saves with 692 and minutes played with 1042:11. The veteran netminder finished the regular season with an 11.69 GAA and a .773 SV%.
Georgia’s offense improved significantly in the last third of the season. Led by Lyle Thompson and his 24 goals during those six games, the Swarm offense averaged 14.17 GF/GAME. With the offense and defense working closer to the Swarm’s 2017 production, Georgia jumped from 5-7 to 11-7 and finished first in the East.
The Swarm has its work cut out for it on Saturday night at Infinite Energy Arena. Rochester won two of its three matchups with the Swarm this season, outscoring the defending champion 39-35 over the season series.
“We expect a tight, defensive game,” Comeau said. “I think both teams have really good offense with some weapons. Rochester’s been relying on defense a lot of years, and their defense this year has been really good, led by Matt Vinc in net. I think our defense has been improving over the last number of games, and Mike Poulin has been great in net.”
Playoffs are a different beast compared to the regular season, something Rochester proved by eliminating a team that bested it three times this season. Georgia finished first in the East Division for the second-straight season and secured home floor advantage. The coaches and players plan on drawing on the home crowd to energize the Swarm to a win.
“Comfort for your team, being at home, being in our own locker room, being in front of our fans,” Comeau said. “We’re happy to be at home, and we’re looking forward to playing in front of a good size crowd for our playoff game.”
Fans can catch the game live on NLLTV.com or on Twitter as the NLL Twitter Game of the Week.