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WEEKEND WRAP: Williams a bright spot for the Rush; Wings in sole possession of First in East

03/12/2012, 7:20am EDT
By Andy Lefkowitz, Associate Editor for NLL.com

Calgary rules in Battle of Alberta while Colorado & Washington split home and home

Edmonton's Shawn Williams can set the NLL's new record by playing in his 189th straight game this Saturday at Philadelphia. (Photo Credit: Dale MacMillan/Cris Anderson)

It’s been a struggle this season for the Edmonton Rush, who hit the halfway point of their season with a 2-6 record. One bright spot has been provided by league veteran Shawn Williams.

On Saturday night in Calgary, Williams reached a scoring milestone and tied the NLL’s ironman streak in the same game.

Now in his 15th season and first with Edmonton, Williams became the sixth player in league history to score 1,000 career regular season points after picking up his third assist in a 16-9 loss to Calgary. Williams is now a member of very exclusive club that includes John Tavares, Gary Gait, Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson and John Grant Jr. – a former teammate of Williams in Rochester.

"He's a class guy and I wish it could've been in better circumstances," said Edmonton head coach and general manager Derek Keenan. "He's been a great player for a long time and I know Willy, he'd rather taken the win than the stats."

Reaching the 1,000-point mark came during his 188th consecutive game played, to tie Doyle and Steve Toll for the longest consecutive games-played streak in league history. Williams will own the record outright on Saturday night when the Rush travel to face Philadelphia.

“It’s obviously nice to get that over with in a sense, but … the stat we’re looking at is 2-6. We’re battling and we’ve got to keep battling,” Williams told John Down of the Calgary Herald, in a story that also appeared in the Edmonton Journal here.

Though Williams twice made history, it was a lost weekend for the Rush, who were also beaten by the Roughnecks 13-10 on Friday at Rexall Place to keep the Battle of Alberta pretty one-sided.

Edmonton has dropped nine in row to the Roughnecks – including three losses this year – and fell to 4-19 all-time against its provincial rivals.

Williams’ accomplishments notwithstanding, another star of the weekend for the Rush was Scott Evans, who racked up eight goals and three assists in the two games. Evans had eight goals and 13 assists through his first five games of the year.

Calgary’s Shawn Evans showed he could go toe-to-toe in the scoring column with his older brother. The Roughnecks’ forward scored five goals on Saturday, capped by a penalty shot.

The bigger surprise on the scoresheet was the three goals and two assists beside Peter McFetridge’s name to set a new career high.

The wins by the Roughnecks allowed them to move a little closer to the top spot in the West Division. At 7-3, Calgary trails NLL-leading Colorado by one game but will not face the Mammoth again in the regular season.

“I thought we showed a lot of courage, a lot of poise and patience when it counted and our players stepped up and scored when we needed them, too,” Calgary coach Dave Pym told the Herald’s Down.

The Roughnecks are off until March 24, when they play Buffalo at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The Mammoth needed to sweep a home-and-home and home series from the last-place Washington Stealth to become the first team to clinch a postseason berth.

Add that Colorado needed to do so with league scoring leader John Grant Jr. sidelined by an upper-body injury, and the task became more difficult.

Colorado escaped with a 13-11 win Saturday night in Denver when Sean Pollock scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with 60 seconds to play. On Sunday, the Mammoth were defeated 11-8, delaying any celebrations.

“In this league, things happen so fast every game. It’s so intense, emotions get so ramped up, but the main thing is to stay calm. You can’t let losses eat at you. Just be better the next time out, stay calm and stay the course,” Pollock said.

For the Stealth, winners of the last two West titles, Sunday’s victory was the first in five home games this year.

“It’s probably more relief than anything else,” Washington coach Chris Hall said. “It’s a lot more fun winning in your own building. The fans are loyal and have been cheering for us hard. It was frustrating not being able to get a win for them.

Washington will try to make it two straight wins on Feb. 24 at Edmonton before returning home to face Minnesota the following night.

While there are sighs of relief coming out of the Pacific Northwest, things in Banditland may have melted down to their low point Saturday afternoon.

Buffalo was outscored 7-0 in the second quarter and had its losing streak stretched to six games after being defeated 13-10 by Rochester.

“We came out with a big five on our backs, and it’s really bad to go from a five to a six. It hurts a great deal. We’re down right now,” Buffalo’s Mark Steenhuis told Budd Bailey of the Buffalo News here.

If anything positive could be taken out of the Bandits’ latest setback, then it was the play of Kevin Buchanan, who scored his first two goals since opening night.

"I've been struggling the past few games," Buchanan told Bailey in a story here. "I've got to get back to having fun, just shooting the ball, looking for the net and not thinking so much, just playing lacrosse."

Buffalo will have two chances this coming weekend to end its skid. On Friday, the team travels to face Toronto before welcoming Minnesota on Saturday to the First Niagara Center.

The Bandits opened the season with a win over the Rock, but gave up a season-high 19 goals in a loss to the Swarm on Jan. 28.

Rochester boosted its record to 5-5 with Saturday’s win after getting hat tricks from Cody Jamieson, Johnny Powless and Cory Vitarelli, six assists from Mike Accursi and 49 saves from Matt Vinc.

Of Rochester’s six remaining games, four are against teams currently at or above .500. Three of those matchups are against the West Division’s top two clubs, Colorado and Calagry.

Though the schedule is quite demanding, Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen told Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that he sees improvement coming at the right time in what’s been a wildly inconsistent season.

“Any given night any team can beat any other team,” Hasen said. “We just need to put it together at the right time. We have a good group, we’re going to make mistakes, but it’s coming to the time where we have to limit those mistakes and we’re starting to do that.”You can read Maiorana’s story here.

Rochester is just one-half game behind Philadelphia for the East lead.  The Wings regained first place with a 12-10 win over Toronto on Friday at the Air Canada Centre.

Dan Dawson had three goals and three assists as Philadelphia matched its victory total from each of the last two seasons. Head coach and general manager Johhny Mouradian indicated that the win over the traditionally-tough Rock could be a defining moment in a turnaround 2012 campaign.

"This was a huge win for us," Mouradian told the Philadelphia Inquirer in a story here. "It wasn't easy. It was a battle 'till the end. When you see ice bags on knees and bloody legs, you know these guys fought the whole way through.

“We just went up against the defending NLL champions and beat them and now we're in the top spot."  

Philadelphia looks to keep its hold on the East lead Saturday night when it welcomes Edmonton to the Wells Fargo Center. The Rush defeated the Wings 12-10 on Feb. 24 at Rexall Place.

Saturday’s loss pushed the Rock out of a first-place tie in the East, and they sank to third in the division following Rochester’s win over Buffalo.

The good news for the Rock is that they’re only one game behind Philadelphia with seven games to play. Five of those contests are away from the Air Canada Centre. While that would seem to be a disadvantage, the Rock are just 2-4 at home this year after going 7-1 en route to winning their sixth NLL championship in 2011.

“Our effort at home has been unacceptable. We want to put on a good show for the fans,” Rock defender Patrick Merrill told Richard Mauntah of the Toronto Sun in an article here.

The Rock’s last two regular season home games are against the Bandits on Friday and Edmonton on April 7.

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