The Edmonton Rush (8-5) earned a weekend sweep and their fifth-straight victory to move atop the West Division with a 17-12 road win over the East Division-leading Toronto Rock (8-4) before a crowd of 9,947 at Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon.
Edmonton rookie Mark Matthews opened the scoring 4:20 into the game and the Rush did not look back as they led the rest of the way.
“We were not prepared,” said Rock head coach Troy Cordingley. “That’s a very solid team and I’m not sure if it was us not respecting them, but they dominated us for 60 minutes.”
In a shaky first quarter, Toronto found themselves trailing 6-2 after the first 15 minutes of the game. The bleeding continued into the second frame as Edmonton forwards Brett Mydske, Zack Greer and Jeremy Thompson each scored in a span of 5:25 en route to a commanding 9-2 advantage for the Rush.
Despite the deficit, the Rock did manage find a little life in the latter minutes of the first half. In a span of 6:13, Kasey Beirnes, Colin Doyle and Garrett Billings each scored during a three-goal run to cut the lead to four goals heading into halftime.
Edmonton, however, would pull away in the second half by outscoring the Rock by a score of 11-7 over the final two quarters.
From the first whistle to last, the Rock were dominated on both ends of the floor. The Rush got off a staggering 63 shots and created a number of fast break opportunities. Meanwhile, Toronto had a hard time finding space in Edmonton’s defense and finished with only 41 shots.
“We’ve got some work to do, let that be a lesson learned,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle. “[Thankfully] that wasn’t the last game of the year.”
In a game with many lows, the lone bright spot for Toronto was their continued proficiency on the power play. The Rock went 4-for-6 with the man advantage and continued a three-game streak with a power play percentage of 50% or higher.
For Edmonton, after starting their season with a 1-4 record, the win marked their seventh in their last eight games and their fifth straight on the road.
“We’ve got to figure out how to do this at home,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “We knew what we were in for coming in here. It’s a hard place to play in, it’s a hard place to win in and they are a very good team…hopefully we can keep this going.”
Matthews scored three times in the victory and is now tied with John Grant, Jr. for the league lead with 35 goals this season. In total, Matthews has recorded 59 points (35+24) through 13 games to lead all rookie scorers.
“Our offense is very potent,” Matthews said. “Last night against Buffalo, they key on me and it leaves [other guys] open. Tonight, I got two [goals] because of the lanes my teammates create.”
Rock goalie Nick Rose struggled to find the ball early and was pulled 4:07 into the second quarter after a tally from Greer. Rose never returned, marking the first time he did not finish a game in net this season. In 16:37, Rose allowed eight goals on 25 shots for a lackluster .680 save percentage.
Toronto’s backup goalie Zack Boychuk, who came on in relief of Rose, saw action for the just the second time in 12 games this year. Boychuk was solid in his 43:22 of play, as the 24-year-old from St. Catharines, Ontario stopped 23 of 31 shots for a clean .742 save percentage.
At the other end of the floor, Edmonton goalie Aaron Bold continued his fine play this year by making 29 saves on 41 shots.
Matthews (3+1), Corey Small (2+2) and Kyle Rubisch (2+2) each collected a team-high four points for the Rush on the afternoon. Toronto’s Billings (3+5) recorded a game-high eight points in the loss while Doyle (3+3) followed up with six points.
The Rock will look to rebound next weekend on Friday, March 29 when they host the Buffalo Bandits at Air Canada Centre while the Rush will return to Rexall Place for the first time since February 22 when they host the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday, April 6.