The Battle for First in The East 4/29/18

Photo by Justin Ivey

Justin Ivey, Beat Writer, New England Black Wolves
Lacrosse Is Awesome

The final week of the NLL season has never been quite like this.  Until this week’s action, no team had clinched a playoff berth in the East Division.  Saturday night’s games determined the players – but seeding wouldn’t be finalized until the completion.  Rochester secured the two seed by beating Buffalo, and Toronto was eliminated with the loss against Colorado.  What was left was the battle for first.  The New England Black Wolves (9-9) hosted the Georgia Swarm (11-7) with the winner taking the top seed and the loser claiming third place.  Making matters even more interesting, both teams came in hot.  Georgia had won five straight, and the Black Wolves streak was three.  New England fought back from an early deficit to tie the game at the half, but the Georgia offense was too much in the second.  The Thompson brothers accounted for six goals and seven assists, as the Swarm solved the Black Wolves defense to claim first place and a bye next week.  Final Score:  Georgia-16, New England-11.

The crowd of 6,158 at Mohegan Sun Arena was quickly silenced in the first quarter as Georgia opened with a five-goal run.  4:17 into the game, Randy Staats (2G, 5A) found the net for the game’s first goal.    Just under two minutes later, Staats found an opening while Georgia was a man down and scored again.  New England could not get the ball moving on offense, even with the man advantage.  The woes continued.  A minute later, Lyle Thompson (4G, 4A) scored his first of the game, followed by a goal from his brother Miles Thompson (2G, 3A) while Georgia had an extra attacker waiting for a delayed penalty.  Again, with the power play opportunity, New England allowed a short-handed goal.  This time it was Jordan MacIntosh (1G) streaking down the turf to beat Aaron Bold.  With 4:36 remaining in the first quarter, Georgia jumped out to a five-goal lead, holding the Black Wolves with nothing.  Finally, 29 seconds after the MacIntosh goal, Kyle Buchanan (4G, 2A) broke the streak scoring on the powerplay.  They would have another late power play opportunity in the quarter, but the offensive struggle continued.  At the end of the first quarter, Georgia led New England 5-1.

Photo by Justin Ivey

Callum Crawford (1G, 3A) opened the scoring in the second quarter scoring from the crease 2:13 in.  Lyle made sure the run didn’t reach three for New England, scoring in transition with just under four minutes off the clock.  Buchanan swung the momentum back to the home team, scoring on the very next possession and Stephan Leblanc (2G, 5A) scored just over three minutes later from up close to bring the Black Wolves within two of the Swarm.  Again, Georgia had an answer.  Shayne Jackson (2G, 2A) snuck in on the far side for the quick stick goal on the pass from Kiel Matisz (2G, 3A).  Then, the Black Wolves caught a big break.  Georgia was called for an illegal substitution minor, and under a minute later, Jason Noble was called for an illegal crosscheck.  17 seconds into the five on three, Buchanan scored his hat trick goal.  On the ensuing five on four, Kevin Crowley (2G, 2A) scored his first of the game and suddenly the Black Wolves were only down one with 2:54 remaining in the half.  With one-minute left, Colton Watkinson (2G) streaked down in transition and fired a laser past goaltender Mike Poulin to tie the game.  At the end of the first half, Georgia and New England were tied 7-7.

Georgia came out of the locker room on a mission.  Lyle scored his hat trick goal just under four minutes in, and two minutes later, Jesse King (1G, 2A) scored a diving goal to give Georgia a two-goal advantage.  Until Buchanan scored 7:45 in, the Georgia defense looked unbreakable.  The Swarm seemed to be in every passing lane, knocking balls out of the air left and right.  With five minutes remaining in the third, Bold made a huge save on a Georgia fast break, but an illegal substitution on New England awarded the Swarm a penalty shot.  Lyle took it and easily beat Bold after throwing some beautiful stick fakes from the crease.  Jordan Hall (2G, 2A) scored two consecutive goals in the final four minutes, giving Georgia a comfortable four-goal lead.  At the end of the third quarter, Georgia led New England 12-8.

New England started on the right foot in the final quarter.  Leblanc scored 2:29 in to get the home crowd back into the game.  Georgia had other ideas though.  Matisz scored his first goal from the crease 47 seconds later, and Jackson buried another one timer 25 seconds after that.  4:45 in, Matisz again was left alone in front for another goal.  With a power play opportunity soon after, Crowley buried a goal from top middle, but the Black Wolves still sat in a five-goal deficit.  Georgia was content to slow things down and limit possessions for the rest of the game.  With 6:28 remaining, Miles would score to make it 16-10.  Watkinson added a shorthanded goal to bring the Black Wolves back within five with 1:10 left on the clock, but it was too late to mount a comeback.  Final Score:  Georgia-16, New England-11.

Up Next:

The New England Black Wolves (3rd seed) visit the Rochester Knighthawks (2nd seed) on Friday, May 4th for the one game play off.

The Georgia Swarm (1st seed) await the winner.