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Playoff implications and Schreiber's return highlight third meeting between two teams

The big question on everyone’s mind leading up to Sunday’s rivalry game between the Georgia Swarm (7-7) and Toronto Rock (7-7) is whether 2017 NLL ROY Tom Schreiber will make his much-anticipated return to the floor.

Schreiber has missed the last six Rock games due to a lower body injury he suffered in Feb. against Rochester. The Rock, who have gone 2-4 in Schreiber’s absence, would be elated to have the righty back on the floor.

“Certainly, all indications are that he’s going to be able to play, but we thought there was a possibility against Colorado,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said. “With a knee injury, coming back off of that, you need to be confident, and you need to be 100%, and he’s getting real close.”

With Toronto and Schreiber not wanting to rush his return, Georgia will not know what to expect until closer to game time when the two teams meet up for the third time this season on Sunday, April 8 at Infinite Energy Arena. Faceoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET and is the NLL Twitter Game of the Week. Fans can catch the game live via live.Twitter.com/NLL.

“We expect him to be back,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “We’re going to prepare for Toronto with Tom Schreiber, and if for some reason he’s not able to go, that doesn’t mean we’re going to spend any less attention on any of the other players, the weapons that they have.”

Toronto has already dropped the season series to Georgia, losing in overtime 14-13 at Infinite Energy Arena on Feb. 17 before falling 12-7 at Air Canada Centre on March 3. The Rock were held scoreless for 32:30 min. in that second game, a sign of the team’s offensive struggles sans Schreiber.

The Rock O strung together two strong performances in Calgary and New England during its recent six-game stretch, but the team’s offensive woes came to a head last week when the visiting Colorado Mammoth prevented any Rock forward from scoring a goal that night.

Toronto’s defense did what it could, scoring six transition goals and one settled goal from defenseman Challen Rogers, but it was not enough as the Mammoth left with an 11-7 win under its belt.

“Talking about consistency, we’ve had a handful of those games this year,” Sawyer said about last Friday’s game. “When we’ve been good, we’ve been really good up front, and when we’ve been bad, it’s been real bad. We just need to find a way to be consistent and find a way to be dependable and accountable and do the job up front…

“You’ve got to turn the page, try to learn from it and just do better. We have no choice here. The East is jammed up, and we can’t afford any more slip-ups.”

With Toronto and Georgia both sitting tied for third in the East, a half game out of first place, and with only four games left on their respective schedules, Sawyer’s words could not be truer. A win this weekend would tie a team up with first-place Buffalo and Rochester, both taking a bye week.

For Georgia, its keys to success lie in the improvements it has made on both ends of the floor. The Swarm defense, led by the strong play of goaltender Mike Poulin and bolstered with the midseason additions of Joel White and Chad Tutton, has a 10.67 GA/GAME over its past six games. Against Toronto this season, Poulin has a 9.68 GAA and a .817 SV%.

Georgia’s offense features five players with 50 or more points. Shayne Jackson leads the team with 67 points (26G, 41A), but Lyle Thompson is catching up quickly with 64 points (30G, 34A), scoring 14 goals in the past four games.

“We talked about continuing to get better and improve each and every game,” Comeau said. “I really believe we’ve been doing that the last number of games. Even in some of our losses, I thought we got better as a team. Defensively, we’ve been good. Offensively, we’ve improved, and I think last game (a 17-12 win against New England), that first half was really an example of what we can do when we play the style of lacrosse we want to play. It lends itself to that style of lacrosse that you’re not going to rely on any one person.”

Toronto’s offense is led by Rob Hellyer and his 76 points (27G, 49A), followed by Adam Jones with 74 points (28G, 46A). Jones has seen his points per game shrink during Schreiber’s absence. He averaged 6.5 points per game in the first eight games of the season, but Jones has averaged 3.67 points per game in the last six Rock games.

With the O being hit-or-miss all season, the Rock defense has been consistently solid. Goaltender Nick Rose has an 11.11 GAA and a .784 SV% this season. In his two meetings with the Swarm, Rose has posted a 12.42 GAA and a .762 SV%.

“That’s one of the positives, obviously,” Sawyer said. “We feel that our defense and goaltending is playing at a high level. If we can combine that with a strong offense, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

Even with Georgia having taken seven of the last eight matchups against Toronto, the Swarm refuses to take anything for granted and expects nothing less than the best from the Rock.

“At the end of it all, we know that Toronto has lots of good players, and they have lots of weapons offensively,” Comeau said. “They need to make sure their offensive players are getting the opportunities and looks they need … They’ve certainly got so many shooters and so many good offensive players that we expect them to come out firing full-force on us Sunday.”