The Edmonton Rush's road winning streak was the story of Week #12 of the 2013 NLL regular season. (Photo: Bill Wippert)
With two convincing road wins, the Edmonton Rush (8-5) clinched a playoff berth by stealing the show in Week #12 of the 2013 NLL regular season, which featured three games this past weekend.
The Rush dominated the Buffalo Bandits (5-7) by a score of 14-7 before an unsettled crowd of 16,629 at First Niagara Center on Saturday night. Edmonton was led by a big game from Corey Small, who grew up in nearby Ontario right over the border, as he posted a game-high seven points (4+3) in front of family and friends on his 26th birthday.
“I thought we just got a complete team effort from the whole group, right from Aaron Bold on, we played extremely well,” Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan told the Edmonton Sun. “[Small] got us going early and it’s great for him. He grew up 20 minutes from here in St. Catharines and he had a whole crew here."
The winning weekend continued the impressive turnaround for a Rush team that lost four of their first five games this season.
“The thing that I’m really happy about is we’re getting better all the time,” Keenan told the Edmonton Journal. “That’s what we’ve talked a lot about, is focusing on getting better and not losing sight of the hole that we were in – we were 1-4 not very long ago – and the work that it’s taken to get out of it."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Bandits lost for the fourth-straight time and have now dropped their last five home games to tie a franchise record.
“I’m at a loss as to how we get outworked at home again," Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour told the Buffalo News. "It’s real old. Real old."
Buffalo knew they might be in for a long night when Edmonton's rookie sensation Mark Matthews threw a pass off the glass to a wide-open Small for a goal as the shot clock expired.
“That’s an embarrassing play,” Kilgour said. “That’s the stuff you do to a guy who doesn’t belong in this league.”
After being right in the mix with a 5-3 record about a month ago, the Bandits are now in danger of missing the playoffs.
“The days of the Buffalo Bandits just showing up and winning a game are over,” Kilgour said. “We need to compete. We need to fight for everything. I’m glad we have five wins, because I don’t know when we’re going to get another one.”
The next day, the Rush 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.
“We got our [butts] handed to us,” Rock captain Colin Doyle told the Toronto Sun. “They’re just a better team by a country mile.”
“It’s got to be a concern to come out and lay an egg like that in truly what should have been our biggest test,” Doyle added to the Toronto Star. “We just can’t allow this to happen. We got beat in every aspect of the game.
The win marked a five-game road sweep for Edmonton and their seventh victory in their last eight games. Having already clinched a playoff spot, the next task at hand is to finish strong down the stretch as the franchise looks to play their first playoff game at home in franchise history.
“We’ve got to figure out how to do this at home,” Keenan told NLL.com. “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.”
Just as their Alberta rivals thrived over the weekend, the Calgary Roughnecks (7-5) charged back to beat the Colorado Mammoth (4-8) with a 12-11 comeback home win in overtime at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night.
Roughnecks forward Curtis Dickson lived up to his "Superman" moniker by saving the day with two crucial goals late in the fourth quarter before scoring the game-winning goal just 21 seconds into the sudden death overtime.
“That was nice, especially after taking a stupid penalty there at the end like that,” Dickson told the Calgary Sun. “The defense bailed me out big time and killed the penalty. I thought I owed it to them to put a couple in the back of the net.”
Calgary, facing a much-improved Colorado team playing their best lacrosse of the season, didn't panic when they allowed three late goals in the first half to trail 7-3 at the break.
"I felt good. Four power play goals, a breakaway, John Grant, Jr. shooting...I’m not going to beat myself up about that," Roughnecks goalie Mike Poulin told NLL.com. "I carried that confidence in, so at half down 7-3, I still felt really good.”
Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley did not feel too good about how his team left Dickson, a player notorious for late-game heroics, open for the game-winner.
“Dickson beat us to the net and you can’t leave him in front of the net," Hamley said. "It’s as simple as that."
In a league where comebacks and upsets happen in the blink of an eye, teams with Champion's Cup aspirations just need to make the playoffs. Once they're in, anything is possible. It's as simple as that.