Throw the rulebook out the window on Saturday. The old adage of “playing a full 60 minutes” doesn’t even apply. In order to win the east final and a trip to the Champion’s Cup, the Toronto Rock have to play a full 70 minutes.
The Georgia Swarm won game one of the east division final this past Saturday 11-8 at the Air Canada Centre. The series switches to Duluth, GA for game two at the Infinite Energy Center. If the Rock can win game two, the teams take a five-minute break and then play a 10-minute mini-game to decide the winner. It’s not overtime – it’s a brand new game.
The league introduced the mini-game in 2014 to expand their playoff series from a one game elimination. The division semi-finals and league final became a best of two with the mini-game as a tie-breaker. In 2015 the league final became a traditional best-of-three.
Both the Rock and the Swarm find themselves in a must-win situation. The Rock are desperate to get to the 10-minute tie-breaker; the Swarm are desperate to avoid it.
This will be Georgia’s first taste of the mini-game. The Rock have one experience with it, and it was a positive one.
Two years ago, the Toronto took the Rochester Knighthawks to the tie-breaker in the east final.
The Knighthawks won game one of the series 10-9 at home. The Rock won 11-8 in game two at the ACC. The mini-game was new at the time; fans didn’t know what to expect. Players didn’t know what to expect. Nobody expected the Rock to jump out to a 7-0 lead, but that’s what happened and they took the game 8-2. Ten goals in 10 minutes. It was thrilling.
“We happened to come hot out of the gate which made it a lot easier on us but the nerves were definitely going,” described Stephan Leblanc, who had three points in the mini-game. “I was really surprised at how much the adrenaline gets going for that 10 minutes. Win or lose that second game, when that 10-minutes starts, it’s or die. You’re holding onto every single pass or every single shot thinking that one goal might be the difference maker.”
“It was pretty crazy being the first year we played a mini game,” remembered Damon Edwards. “Winning the game before and having that momentum going into the 10-minute overtime was pretty big.”
Momentum will be the biggest factor at play in the conclusion of this series, although Leblanc and Edwards agree that treating the mini-game as a separate game rather than an overtime period is necessary.
“We have to approach it as a brand new game especially after having to win the first one,” Edwards said. “We all know that Georgia is a good team and they’re going to come out firing and we have to match that. We have to stay consistent.”
“We’ve had three tight games with the Swarm this season,” Leblanc said. “I really believe that when we get to that overtime, it’s going to be who shows up for that 10 minutes. It’s a whole new game. It’s refresh, regroup and take it from there.”
The mini-game wipes the score clean but nothing else. Penalties carry over. Players ejected from the main game cannot come back. Substitutions cannot be made for injured players. While the score re-sets to zero, it really is an overtime.
When your season comes down to just 10 minutes, there is no room for error.
“Discipline is huge especially against a team like Georgia,” Edwards expressed. “Their power play is very good, very potent. We’ve been preaching discipline all year so it’ll be extremely important. We’ve been working on our penalty kill more in practice every week and we hope to carry that over into Georgia.”
“There’s so much on the line,” Leblanc said. “Especially in the semi-finals. You’ve worked all season for this moment. If we’re lucky enough to win game two and force that 10-minute overtime, it’s important to play loose but at the same time you have to take into consideration how much is on the line.”
The Rock understand just how much this game means.
“If we go in having the same mentality as we did in 2015, that we’re going to win and we’re going to force the mini-game, it’s going to be a great feeling once we do win,” Edwards said.
Fans can watch the game live via NLLTV.com or Twitter as the NLL Game of the Week at 7 p.m.
Originally published at https://torontorock.com/2017/05/19/champions-cup-berth-on-the-line-saturday/.