The Edmonton Rush (9-6) overcame a slow start to keep the NLL regular season title within reach while putting the playoff hopes of the Rochester Knighthawks (7-8) on hold with a 14-10 home win at Rexall Place on Sunday afternoon.
With the win, the Rush moved into first place in the NLL’s West Division, and puts the Rush into a regular-season finale against the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday that becomes an even bigger matchup than the standard-issue tussle in the Battle of Alberta. If Edmonton beats Calgary, the Rush would not only clinch first in the West Division, they would also secure home-field advantage right through the NLL playoffs as the top overall seed.
After falling to 1-5 on their home floor and failing to guarantee themselves a home playoff date last weekend with a loss to Colorado, the Rush rebounded with a clutch victory. The Rush overcame a sluggish start and poured on the offense in the second half against a Rochester club that had played the night before and earned a hard-fought win in Calgary.
“It was tough not getting the win last week, but when you’re able to come from behind and get a ‘W’ like this one, it’s a big win,” said Zack Greer, who paced the Rush attack with eight points (4+4).
Rochester opened the game with four straight goals, the last of which scored by Dan Dawson with 6:33 left in the first quarter spelled the end of the night for Rush goaltender Aaron Bold. Backup Brodie MacDonald came on in relief, and a pair of power-play goals from Corey Small and Zack Greer started the Rush’s turnaround. Edmonton completed its own four-goal run, and after a pair of Knighthawks goals were wiped out upon video review, the two teams hit halftime knotted 4-4.
From that point on, it was pretty much a one-way track meet for the Rush. Edmonton lit up Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc with six goals in the third quarter including a highlight-reel, over-the-shoulder marker from Alex Turner, who added his second of the game with 45 seconds to go in the stanza.
MacDonald’s heroics off the bench certainly keyed the Rush’s comeback as he finished with 32 saves.
“He shut the door and was the difference maker,” said Jarrett Davis, who came to the Rush in an off-season trade from Rochester and burned his old teammates for four goals and two assists.
MacDonald, who secured the win late in the fourth by making a terrific sliding stop on Craig Point, was happy to provide the spark his team needed.
“We came out a little flat, but got it together and played great after that,” said MacDonald, who made just his fourth appearance of the season.
While MacDonald was one major factor in the victory, the Rush’s power play was another, finishing 4-for-6 and taking full advantage of the Knighthawks’ ventures to the penalty box.
“We were very undisciplined and their speed created that,” offered Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “I talked about discipline with them (post-game) and we even talked at halftime because we were walking a fine line and getting away with a few things. But we got caught. And this is a veteran team and some guys really screwed up.”
Knighthawks defender Paul Dawson admitted to being one of the guilty veterans that served up needless power plays to Edmonton.
“Too many mental mistakes. We made dumb decision after dumb decision and it cost us,” said Dawson, who ended the game with a verbal sparring match through the endboard plexi-glass with Rush owner Bruce Urban.
Curtis Knight, Mark Matthews, and Cory Conway rounded out Edmonton’s scoring. Ryan Ward added five assists for the Rush, four of the helpers coming on the man-advantage, giving him 16 power-play assists on the season and setting a new Edmonton single-season record.
Joe Walters, Dan Dawson, and Stephen Keogh each had a pair of goals for Rochester while Cory Vitarelli, Mike Accursi, Cody Jamieson, and Johnny Powless tallied once in the losing effort.
Edmonton has clinched a playoff berth and can clinch the NLL regular season title with a win over Calgary. The Rush will clinch a first-round home playoff game with a Washington loss to Philadelphia.
Rochester can clinch a playoff berth and a first-round home playoff game with a win over Buffalo. The Knighthawks will clinch a playoff berth with a Colorado loss to Minnesota. Rochester will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to Buffalo AND a Colorado win over Minnesota.