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Greg Gurenlian needs only five seconds to set the tone for Lizards against Outlaws

Greg Gurenlian of the New York Lizards celebrates

Greg Gurenlian of the New York Lizards celebrates after scoring a goal in the opening moments of a game against the Denver Outlaws during their Major League Lacrosse game at Shuart Stadium on July 9, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Jim McIsaac

Just as the rain began to dissipate and the final buzzer sounded, Greg Gurenlian had a cathartic release of sorts: He spiked his stick to the ground. Then he stripped off his helmet and jersey and did the same with them.

After last season's one-goal loss to Denver in a semifinal, the Lizards' faceoff specialist had this year's matchup with the Outlaws circled on his calendar from the moment the schedule was announced.

"Man, they booted us out of the league last year," Gurenlian said, "and it hurt so bad. Even though technically this game didn't mean all that much standings-wise, it meant a lot to us as a team."

With a home playoff game on Aug. 1 already clinched, the Lizards (10-2) locked up the No. 1 seed with their 18-15 win over the reigning champion Outlaws (5-6) on Thursday night at Hofstra.

How badly did Gurenlian want revenge? It took only five seconds for the 6,107 in attendance to find out.

After winning the opening faceoff, the midfielder commonly known across Major League Lacrosse as "The Beast" burst toward Denver's cage and fired a shot into the back of the net for his first goal of the season.

"I think that was pretty obvious," Gurenlian said with a smile. "I was waiting for this game. Five seconds in, sticking it to them and keeping it going . . . Just felt good."

Three more won faceoffs by Gurenlian and four Lizards goals later -- two by Tommy Palasek, one by Rob Pannell and one by JoJo Marasco -- and the Lizards had a 5-0 lead five minutes into the game.

Gurenlian went 30-for-35 on faceoffs to give him 254 for the season, breaking Alex Smith's MLL record of 249 set in 2008. He has won 77.7 percent of his attempts, which, if the season ended today, would shatter his own record of 64.1 percent set in 2013.

"He's just so dialed in right now," coach Joe Spallina said. "He's at a different level right now. Such an attention to detail. He's been phenomenal."

Serving as a full-time faceoff coach has aided Gurenlian's focus this year, he said. The 6-1, 225-pound Penn State product coaches at The Faceoff Academy seven days a week.

"I'm staying sharp like I've never stayed before," Gurenlian said.

Pannell had five goals and two assists. Marasco and Palasek each added three scores. Drew Adams made 11 saves.

The Lizards took a 15-8 lead into the fourth quarter before the Outlaws went on a 7-3 run in the final period amid typhoon-like conditions to make the final score appear deceptively close.

"We kind of had to get the monkey off our back with [the Outlaws]. We haven't had a great history against them," Spallina said of the Lizards, who are 3-13 against Denver. "Before this year, they've never had a season where they haven't made the playoffs as a franchise. So yeah, we wanted to do to them what they did to us last year.

"We talked about getting off to a fast start, and when you have Greg winning faceoff after faceoff and we have a significant lead before they even have the ball on offense, that's a big part of our success."


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