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Playoff Push: Swarm Pulls Away From Knighthawks, 17-11

The Georgia Swarm (7-9) won its third straight contest on Saturday night by defeating the Rochester Knighthawks (6-9) 17-11 at Blue Cross Arena in front of 8,570 fans. With the victory, the Swarm gained sole possession of the third and final playoff spot in the East Division as two games remain in the regular season. Georgia also won the season series against the Knighthawks, 2-1, which gives the Swarm the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage in the event that both teams finish with the same record at the end of the season.

“I thought we’ve played really well in our last five games, the first two of those five we had a bad quarter that cost us those games,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “But since that time, we’re at a stage in the season where we can’t afford to take steps back and we have to get better each time. We have to give credit to the guys, they’ve executed and have played with an urgency and intensity that we need when we’re fighting to get into the playoffs.”

During Georgia’s three-game win streak, the Swarm has outscored their opponents by a combined total of 50-30. After winning at home on Friday night against New England 16-9, the Swarm took the field this evening with big playoff implications on the line. Their opponent, the Rochester Knighthawks, who won three-straight NLL titles from 2012-14, came out strong after building an early 3-1 lead in the first quarter. What happened next, left the entire Knighthawks fanbase in a state of shock. The Swarm, the league’s youngest team, finished the half on a 9-1 scoring run and built a comfortable 10-4 lead at half.

“They were trying to run us, and we said ‘Hey, we’re going to run them,’” Comeau said in regards to how the team responded after trailing 3-1 early. “We wanted to try and dictate the pace and our defense settled in. We gave up a couple of goals in transition that we didn’t get out on. We talked about gameplan, and got back to that and Brodie was really good after that.”

No. 1 overall pick Lyle Thompson led the Swarm with a career-high four goals, which included three important goals in the second half that helped Georgia in front. Thompson has been on a tear as of late, and has posted three games in a row with at least a hat trick. In four games this April, the right-handed forward has tallied 12 goals and seven assists.

“I think Lyle has been outstanding the last four or five games for us,” Comeau said. “I think he’s getting his confidence playing at this level and figuring out when to take shots, make passes and go to the net… Obviously he’s scoring, but he’s coming up with some big loose balls and being the impactful player we thought he would be.” 

While Georgia’s offense continued to pour in the goals on Saturday, its defense likewise played strong for the third-straight game and saw solid outings from both its goalies. Brodie MacDonald got the start, and limited the Knighthawks to four goals in the first half, which included just one goal after the 5:35 mark in the first quarter. Zach Higgins replaced MacDonald in the third quarter after the Knighthawks opened the half with three goals. Higgins earned the victory after collecting 11 saves on 14 shots in 21:56 minutes of action.

“I thought Brodie played really well, but we had a little bit of a hiccup,” Comeau said. “Sometimes when teams go on a run like that it’s not always the goalies fault but you make a change to try and change momentum. Higgins went in and did what he’s supposed to do off the bench. He gave us some good minutes, and made some good saves.” 

The Swarm’s offense featured a balanced attack for the second night in a row and was led by Thompson, Jesse King (3G, 5A), Randy Staats (2G, 4A) and Johnny Powless (2G, 2A). After Rochester opened the second half on a four-goal run to get the game within two at 10-8, Shayne Jackson (1G, 2A) scored a crucial power play goal to swing some momentum back in the Swarm’s favor. The Knighthawks responded back again to make it a 11-9 game, but that’s when Thompson caught fire and scored his second goal of the night on a power play chance to once again push the lead back to three at 12-9 as the third quarter came to a close.

The two teams traded goals to open the fourth quarter and Georgia scored the game’s final three scores to secure its second win in Rochester this season. Cody Jamieson (4G, 1A) led the Knighthawks in scoring and Matt Vinc and Angus Goodleaf (Loss) split time between the pipes in the loss.

With two games remaining this season, the Swarm will control their own destiny to clinch a playoff spot. Georgia travels to New England next Saturday to finish the season series with the Black Wolves, and then closes out the 2016 regular season at home against the Vancouver Stealth the following week.

Three Stars of the Game:

1) Jesse King
2) Randy Staats
3) Dan Dawson

Story by GeorgiaSwarm.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.