SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Swarm (2-8) may be playing for their postseason lives this Sunday against the Toronto Rock (4-6), but they will be doing so on their home turf as the two East Division rivals square off at Xcel Energy Center. Lower level seats are still available for the 5 p.m. CT faceoff for as little as $22, which fans can purchase through MNSwarm.com or by calling 1-888-667-9276.
With eight games remaining on their regular season schedule, the Swarm sit two games back of Toronto for the third and final East Division playoff berth. The two teams will meet for the second of three times this weekend with Minnesota both hungry to throw their hat into the postseason conversation and to atone for their loss in the series opener, a 14-12 defeat on Feb. 22 at Air Canada Centre.
The relationship between the Swarm and Rock has been especially tenuous lately, considering that the two teams racked up 100 penalty minutes and three fighting majors aside in their first meeting of the season. Additionally, Minnesota eliminated Toronto last postseason in the East semifinals, winning 20-11 on the road, and defeating them 13-12 in overtime in their last matchup at The Hive on Feb. 8, 2013.
“I think there definitely is bad blood there,” said Swarm coach Joe Sullivan of his team’s rivalry with their next opponent. “I think you are going to see another tough game between the two of us... If they want to play physical we know we can do that, but our intent is to stay out of the penalty box and beat them with specialty teams and speed.”
The Swarm come into the game on the heels of a heartbreaking 12-9 defeat at division-leading Buffalo last Saturday. After putting themselves in position for the road upset, leading 9-8 with 15 minutes to play, the Bandits responded by winning the fourth quarter 4-0, including two late goals by F Mark Steenhuis to clinch the game.
Forward Josh Gillam’s four points (3g, 1a) led the Minnesota attack, and February’s NLL Rookie of the Month F Logan Schuss claimed the team goal-scoring lead with two tallies against the Bandits. The Ladner, British Colombia native now boasts 18 goals on the season (first among NLL first-years) and seven in his last two games. Goaltender Zach Higgins played admirably in defeat, turning aside 45 of 57 shots.
In order for Minnesota to shut down the Rock offense, they need to quiet a pair of forwards nestled at the top of the NLL leaderboard. Toronto’s attack runs through F Garrett Billings, who leads the league with a staggering 70 points (20g, 50a). The reigning Player of the Month, Billings put up a season-high nine assists in their previous matchup. Filling out the Rock’s front end is F Stephan Leblanc who has notched 29 goals, only one shy of league leading Dane Dobbie from Calgary.
Off last weekend, Toronto’s last game action came in a doubleheader in Alberta, and resulted in a pair of losses to Edmonton on Feb. 28 and Calgary on March 1. The Rock will be working overtime again this weekend, as they will host Rochester on Saturday before visiting Saint Paul on Sunday.
After playing seven of their first 10 games on the road, the Swarm will finally get the chance to enjoy a home-heavy schedule for the remainder of the season, just in time for a needed push for the playoffs. Six of Minnesota’s final eight games will be in Saint Paul, and all but one of those will be against divisional foes. However in order to fully enjoy what should be a home-field advantage, the Swarm need to break out of their recent funk in their home arena, where they are still searching for their first win in 2014. Still, Sullivan knows it’s not how a team starts the season that is important, it is how they end it.
“Fortunately for us the East is still a division in which we can get into the playoffs,” Sullivan explained. “We’ve shown in the past it doesn’t matter where you end up during the regular season, it’s all about if you are prepared for the playoffs, and I can tell you that this team will be prepared for the playoffs.”
Sunday is additionally the Swarm’s “Give-N-Go Gear Drive” in conjunction with the Gott To Lax Initiative. Fans are encouraged to bring cash and equipment donations to the Xcel Energy Center box office, all which will benefit Gott To Lax, a local non-profit organization dedicated to giving opportunities to young lacrosse players.
A Minnesota Swarm game is something that has to be experienced live to be fully understood. Fans can get that experience in The Hive for as low as $22 for a lower-level seat. Fans looking to lock up pro-rated season packages can still take advantage of a special Buy 2, Get 2 25%-Off promotion for the remainder of the 2014 Season. Visit mnswarm.com or call 888-667-9276 for more information.