Heading into a back-to-back, the Philadelphia Wings positioned themselves briefly into the postseason. They were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
A momentum swing kept the Wings in the playoff hunt when they swept the New York Riptide and Toronto Rock, but they lost ground on the Halifax Thunderbirds in the NLL Eastern Conference standings following a road loss on Long Island.
If Philadelphia is going to make the postseason, they’re going to earn every victory. Games versus the Georgia Swarm and against the Rochester Knighthawks ended with dramatic flair. After the weekend, where do the Wings stand in the playoff picture?
Philadelphia Wings vs. Georgia Swarm
The Philadelphia Wings defeated the Georgia Swarm, 13-12, earlier this season. Paul Day summed up the rivalry between these two franchises back in December; “whenever we play, it’s usually a one goal game.”
Brett Dobson made critical saves on Trevor Baptiste and Blake Gibson-McDonald. Baptiste and Gibson-McDonald could’ve broken onto the scoreboard with needed goals, but Dobson began an early trend of making big saves in key moments. Zach Higgins made a milestone save in the first quarter, blocking his 3000th shot in the NLL. Neither offense jumped ahead of the defense, deadlocking the score at 2-2. Joe Resetarits and Blaze Riorden end-capped a back-to-back sequence of goals by Lyle Thompson and Zach Miller.
Both goaltenders saved point-blank shots on goal. Sam LeClair put the Wings ahead, but Thompson didn’t let it last. Eventually, the powerplay boosted scoring, end-capping a three-goal streak that started with Mitch Jones and ended with Resetarits scoring his second. Andrew Kew scored on a Swarm powerplay before halftime. Philadelphia led 6-4.
Thompson made back-to-back powerplay goals for Georgia, dating back to Kew before halftime. Seth Oakes tied the game before Kew gave a lead with another powerplay goal. Resetarits secured a hat trick to tie the game, 7-7, in a back-and-forth third quarter. Miller and Chad Tutton exchanged goals before the Swarm declared the upper hand. The Wings trailed 10-8 after a poorly disciplined period exploited by Thompson and Kew.
Second-chance opportunities and powerplay possession changed the tide of the game. Riorden kept pushing, completing his hat trick to tie the game 10-10. Georgia answered with back-to-back daggers from Oakes and Shayne Jackson, but Resetarits kept scoring to keep Philadelphia within striking distance. Then, Miller scored, but the goal was under review for a crease violation. After an inconclusive verdict, the Swarm took a 13-11 lead, where a late Riorden score made it a 13-12 loss for the Wings.
“It was pretty tough on the video to see, it looked pretty close. I think maybe if we have a different angle, if you have the cameras sequenced; some arenas have the cameras sequenced, to show exactly, but it was pretty tough. It could’ve went either way. It was called a no-goal, and then they challenged it. I think it would be the same thing; it would be inconclusive. That’s a tough call.”Paul Day; 3/18/2023
The latest chapter between Philadelphia and Georgia was everything anyone expected. The three guarantees in life are death, taxes, and the Wings versus the Swarm decided by one goal margins.
Philadelphia Wings at Rochester Knighthawks
Higgins started both games of the back-to-back, playing well in both games. Yesterday also marked the first time Taite and Holden Cattoni played each other in the NLL.
Mitch Jones and Connor Fields began the scoring. Chad Tutton forced a turnover, finding Eric Shewell on the breakaway to regain an early lead. Taite scored before Jones put the exclamation point on the first quarter. The Philadelphia Wings jumped out to a 4-1 lead.
Rylan Hartley was every bit as incredible as Higgins between the pipes. Fields and Thomas Hoggarth brought the Rochester Knighthawks within one, 4-3 before Paul Day decided to play some defense from the bench. Day went 2/2 on coach challenges, resulting in a Ben McIntosh goal and a reversed decision against Ryan Smith. Adding insult, Taite scored another before halftime, stretching the Wings’ lead to 6-3.
Ed Comeau saw Day pull off a successful challenge on a crease violation, then threw the flag on Riorden. His toe was on the crease, calling back the goal. Then, the Knighthawks slowly crept back into the game due to goals from Smith and Holden. The older brother to Taite put Rochester just behind the Wings heading into the fourth quarter, 6-5. Hartley blanked Philadelphia in the third.
Smith and Holden combined for the Knighthawks’ first lead. Turner Evans created some separation after forcing a turnover by Alex Pace. Leading 8-6, it seemed like the Wings let another game slip away in the back-to-back. Then, McIntosh and Resetarits tied the game. Regulation time wasn’t enough, and these teams went to overtime at the Blue Cross Arena, tied 8-8.
Baptiste won the most critical faceoff of the game. Immediately, Day called a timeout to construct a potential scoring play. Riorden scored his only goal, the game-winner, en route to a 9-8 win with all the drama.
“Jeff had a really good play drawn up, [and] Blazer winked at me before he went on the floor. It’s his hometown and he was able to finish it right in Rochester, which is pretty fantastic.”Paul Day; 3/19/2023
Higgins kept the Philadelphia Wings in both games during the weekend back-to-back. He didn’t get the victory versus the Georgia Swarm, but it paid off against the Rochester Knighthawks.
“Zach Higgins was great for us this weekend as well. You’re always confident in a goaltender like that. You always look forward to the next opponent.”Paul Day; 3/19/2023
A nugget that makes Higgins’ weekend more impressive is the victory in a goaltending duel against Hartley. Higgins and Hartley are two of four goaltenders with more than 500 shots on goal faced in 2022-2023. Both goaltenders could be considered elite in the NLL. The backbone of the Wings’ defense, Higgins has to keep his pace against a gnarly schedule to finish the season.
Penalty Kill (-)
Lately, the penalty kill was the last nail driven in a couple of close, costly losses as the Philadelphia Wings attempt to capture a playoff berth. The Georgia Swarm were 3/5 on their powerplay, running full steam behind Kew and Thompson. Combine that with playing in the defensive zone on an extended shift, and it’s a recipe to leave Higgins out to dry.
“It comes down to coming out of halftime with a little more pop. We came out a little bit flat the last three games, it’s been a bit of a focus point for us this year. We have to really just try to come out at half with a little bit more jam.”Chad Tutton; 3/18/2023
On the road, the Wings were a lot better. They were a clean sheet, and so were the Rochester Knighthawks, in the penalty column.
Philadelphia can help themselves on the powerplay, but they’re a very underrated team so long as they’re keeping an even head and staying out of the penalty box.
Coach Review (+)
Day was ready to toss the challenge flag to the faceoff circle at a moment’s notice. His first of the weekend wasn’t successful, which would’ve overturned a game-winning goal if it were. Miller scored the game-winner for the Georgia Swarm, and it seemed clear that his foot was in the crease. The ruling was a goal before the challenge, however, and the evidence was inconclusive to overturn the call. A bitter pill to swallow when you realize it decided another tight contest between two rivals.
On the very next day, he had more luck with the challenge flag. Day had a no-goal overturned to a good goal for the Philadelphia Wings when he challenged a crease violation when McIntosh scored. Following that correct challenge, Day won another, reversing a Rochester Knighthawks goal into a no-goal on a different crease violation.
There is a ton of traffic on the crease; the highest-quality scoring area in the offensive zone. Day didn’t miss a beat.
“One of the big things is communication with the players coming off, and the other is us on the bench. We’ve got some experience with other challenges, and the second one was an experience we’ve seen before when I was on the other end of it in Rochester years ago. It wasn’t actually the shooting, it was before the shooting, he was in the crease when he touched the ball.”Paul Day; 3/19/2023
He listened to his players, and for that, the Wings were rewarded with a victory in the long run over the Knighthawks, keeping them in the playoff race with the Halifax Thunderbirds.
Next, the Philadelphia Wings host the Halifax Thunderbirds on Saturday, March 25th, 2023. The opening faceoff takes place at 7pm. You can watch the game on ESPN+.
(Photo Credit/Alex McIntyre Photos)