The Edmonton Rush (4-5) rushed out to an 11-1 lead and held on late to beat the Minnesota Swarm (3-5) with a 14-9 road win at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday afternoon.
Rush goaltender Aaron Bold and their defense held the Swarm scoreless for the first 37:35 of the game, the longest goal drought to start a game by an NLL team since March 2010.
“I thought we had tremendous energy,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “It was just really playing our system better on defense. Tonight, I thought we took away their time and space. When we play that way, our defense is very difficult to play against.”
Edmonton’s offense took advantage of Minnesota’s early offensive ineptitude. The Rush netted five goals on 13 first-quarter shots to build a comfortable lead. That lead grew to as big as 11-1 in the fourth quarter, led by a hat trick from forward Corey Small.
“[Our defense’s] momentum pushes onto us when they’re playing as well as they did in the first quarter,” said Rush rookie Mark Matthews. “It really gives us a chance to go out like we did today and get out 5-0 and stomp on their throats right there off the hop.”
Minnesota simply had no answers on the offensive end of the field early on.
“I think that was one of the worst first halves we’ve ever played,” said Swarm forward Ryan Benesch. “We were all awful.”
Edmonton needed the lead to fend off the Swarm’s furious-fourth quarter comeback. Minnesota scored six unanswered goals in the final quarter and brought the game to within three on a goal by rookie Kiel Matisz, but the deficit was just too large to overcome.
“The guys bought back into the program,” said Swarm assistant coach Bobby Keast. “We made some adjustments at the half. They realized that those adjustments will make a difference and we just weren’t able to get 13 or 14 [goals] when we needed to.”
Despite the furious comeback, the Rush bench remained calm during Minnesota's rally.
“We knew we were fine,” Matthews said. “We just needed a break on our side.”
Bold, who stopped all 20 first-half shots that he faced, stymied the comeback effort with a few huge saves down the stretch
“Bold’s been our guy all year,” said Edmonton forward Zack Greer. “We know when he plays well, we’re a tough team to beat. He’s one of the best out there and we kind of ride off him.”
Minnesota’s goaltending issues continued. Evan Kirk, who turned in a phenomenal 42-save performance in Friday’s 13-8 win over the Rush in Edmonton, got his second start of the weekend. He was pulled in the first quarter in favor of Tyler Carlson after allowing five goals on 11 shots.
“Kirk played unbelievable Friday night,” Keast said. “We felt he earned a second start this weekend.”
The win was crucial for Edmonton to avoid a weekend sweep at the hands of a divisional opponent.
“It’s obviously big,” Keenan said. “We’re probably even now because we each won by five. We’re ahead of them in the standings now. It’s tight. Getting the win was big.”
The game was the first of a five-game road stretch for an Edmonton squad that doesn’t return home again until April 6.
Zack Greer (3+2) and Ryan Ward (0+5) both finished with a team-high five points, Small (3+1), Jarrett Davis (0+4) and rookie Curtis Knight (2+2) each had four points while Matthews had three points (1+2).
Benesch (4+2) and Callum Crawford (1+5) had a game-high six points, while rookies Kiel Matisz and Shayne Jackson had five points (1+4) and four points (1+3) respectively in the losing effort.
Bold finished with 35 saves on 44 shots while Swarm goalies Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson combined to make 31 saves on 45 shots in the loss.