Edmonton finished the regular season four games under .500. After trouncing the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night, the Rush are one win away from the first championship in franchise history.
Edmonton scored six first-quarter goals and Aaron Bold put together an incredible performance in goal during`1 a 15-3 rout in the West Divisional Final on Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Rush will meet Rochester for the Champion’s Cup at 7:30 p.m. ET next Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., and broadcast on CBS Sports Network. The Knighthawks advanced to the title game for the first time since 2007 with a 17-13 win over Toronto in the East final earlier on Saturday.
Edmonton is the sixth team in league history to make the Championship game with a losing record joining Baltimore and Washington in 1987, Philadelphia in 1992, Portland in 2008 and Rochester this year.
The coach of that Portland team was Derek Keenan, the current bench boss and general manager of the Rush. No coach before Keenan had taken a team with a losing record into the Champion’s Cup twice.
“We’re just playing really well right now,” Keenan said. “It’s been a trying time to get to this point, but we got a heck of a good group and we’re doing everything well.”
The Rush jumped all over Minnesota early and often. Following a goal from the Swarm’s Corbyn Tao to tie the game at 1-1 early in the first quarter, Edmonton ramped up its performance on both ends of the floor.
Minnesota did not add another tally the rest of the half and Edmonton seemed to score at will. A goal by Zach Greer with one-tenth of a second remaining in the half sent the Rush into the locker room with an 11-1 lead.
“We’re coming in with the right mindset,” said Rush foward Ryan Ward, “It’s all about compete, hustle, and hard work. That’s our mindset going into it and we’ve been able to do that two in a row.”
Edmonton’s offense is clicking at the right time. The 15 goals is tied for its second-largest output of the season, only behind the franchise-record 19 hung on top-seeded Calgary in the West semifinals on May 5.
Ward led the Rush with four goals and added three assists. Aaron Wilson and Corey Small each chipped in hat tricks on Saturday.
“Offense is about performing, and when our guys buy in to what we’re trying to do out there, they’ll perform,” said Keenan. “I couldn’t even name one guy out there tonight that I could pinpoint as our number one guy on offense. They were all great.”
Minnesota, winners of five in a row coming into Saturday’s matchup, picked a poor time to turn in their worst performance of the year.
“We should have made some changes early on and we didn’t and when we don’t adjust quick enough then you put yourself in a hole and you force your offense to do things that you don’t typically do,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “Hats off to (Edmonton), they’re a great team and they’re deserving to go to the Champion’s Cup.”
Even when Minnesota’s defense was able to clamp down and hold the Rush to just four goals in the second half, the Swarm were unable to chip away at the deficit, getting just two scores of their own in the final two quarters.
The lone bright spot for the Swarm offense was Tao, a rookie forward who tallied two goals.
A large piece of Edmonton’s masterful defensive performance was courtesy of Bold. He stopped 39 of 42 shots for a save percentage of .929.
“He’s incredible, the best goalie in the league,” said Ward. “He’s our backbone and we’re here because of him.”
Minnesota, a team featuring 12 rookies this season, hopes their best years are still ahead of them.
“Everybody gets better as the years go on with a lot more experience,” said Swarm captain Andrew Suitor. “We’ve got a really good core coming back and four first-round draft picks, so there’s our positives.”
Edmonton knows it’s 60 minutes away from the ultimate goal.
“The big goal, like every team in this league, is to win a championship, and now the opportunity is in front of us,” said Keenan.
For a photo gallery of the Rush and Swarm, click here.