The Edmonton Rush (3-5) and Minnesota Swarm (3-4) will finish their home-and-home on Sunday. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)
The Edmonton Rush (3-5) and Minnesota Swarm (3-4) finish their home-and-home series on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul at 3 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
The Swarm got their first road win of the season with a 13-8 decision over the Rush at Rexall Place on Friday night. Minnesota forward Callum Crawford had nine points (2+7) in his return from injury while Jordan MacIntosh and Kiel Matisz each scored three goals.
Rush rookie Mark Matthews was held to just one goal on 14 shots while Corey Small (2+3) and Cory Conway (1+4) both had a team-high five points.
Last weekend, the Rush earned two big wins to shoot up the standings while the Swarm lost a another close game, this time to the visiting Calgary Roughnecks.
“Some changes [Edmonton] made in the offseason have really helped,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of speed.”
Edmonton will not play again at home at Rexall Place until April. But a five-game road swing isn't necessarily a bad thing for the Rush, who are just 2-4 at home this season. However, Edmonton has now won two-straight games at home, starting with last Friday's win over the Washington Stealth by a score of 15-10.
"We’ve played quite well away from home," said Rush GM and head coach Derek Keenan. "Our focus is going to be on Friday night and playing better at home like we did last Friday night. We’ll kind of cross the five [road games] in a row when we get to it."
The struggling Swarm defense have to contend with the league’s top goalscorer once more. Matthews still leads the NLL with 24 goals and was named NLL Offensive Player of the Week after scoring 11 of Edmonton’s 29 goals over their two wins last weekend.
“Mark’s a top player for them,” Sullivan said. “It was only a matter of time before he started to do what he’s doing.”
Despite his breakout performance with some impressive stats, Matthews was most happy about getting closer to a .500 record last weekend.
"Getting two big wins was crucial," he said. ""They were close games for a while. We just [kept] doing what we do and we were able to get good looks. Not only myself, but everyone else."
Crawford, the team’s 2012 leader in assists (58) and points (83), had missed two of the last three games with a hamstring injury. Swarm captain Andrew Suitor was injured early in Friday's game in Edmonton and his status is still unknown for Sunday.
Changes are expected for Minnesota’s special teams, as their power play (44.7%) and penalty kill (29.6%) both rank last in the West Division.
“We’ve got to re-look a lot of things,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to look at just trying to do too much, trying to be too cute on the power play and not just executing what we set out to go and do and take advantage of other team’s short falls or opportunity areas.
“On the penalty kill, it’s a whole other ball of wax there. The guys just aren’t playing up to where they were and there may be some complacency there. It’s put back on me to get rid of that complacency and get guys to push for one another. We’ve got a lot of young guys that would love the opportunity and this weekend they’ll get that chance.”
Swarm goaltender Evan Kirk has been pulled in each of his last three starts but returned to start the second quarter on Friday to earn the win with a strong 42-save performance.
“He has struggled for sure and I don’t think anyone knows that any better than Evan does,” said Sullivan earlier in the week. “Not to the level of play he’s been expected to play at. He knows it. We’ve talked him through it a little bit. I’ve got a ton of confidence in both my goalies so I know he’ll bounce back. It’s early enough in the year that we’re still relying on him to come up big for us.”