Mark Matthews' only goal of the game was a huge one.
The reigning NLL Rookie of the Year scored the game-winner just 1:16 into overtime as the Edmonton Rush remained the National Lacrosse League's only unbeaten team. The Rush improved to 5-0 with an 8-7 victory over the two-time defending champion Rochester Knighthawks last night before a crowd of 7,951 at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
"A big-game player made a big play," said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan of his star forward.
But Matthews' goal was far from the final talking point of what had been a defensive battle game. The rematch between the two teams who squared off for the 2012 Champion's Cup was marred by a nasty incident during the post-game handshake. Knighthawks players, especially Joel McCready, took exception to perceived taunts from the Rush's Jeremy Thompson and both teams scrummed along the boards. McCready took several punches at Thompson before the referees and coaches from both teams intervened.
"It was an emotional, tough game and they had one guy who wanted to goad our guys and tempers flared," said Rochester head coach Mike Hassan, who was none to pleased with the referees throughout the game.
"Seven power plays to one (4-to-1 on game sheet) ... That's a huge difference. It's a fast game and there's room for error but that was bad."
Keenan didn't care for what happened in the post-game scuffle either, laying a large part of the blame on the whole handshake concept.
"Maybe I'm wrong but that's not the first time it's happened and it's becoming more common. I think we've got to make a change," said Keenan. "It's an emotional game. Intense and physical and nasty at times. It's unfortunate the whole thing boiled over."
Thompson, who scored his first goal of the season and went 12-for-18 on faceoffs, had little to say about the fracas, wanting instead to focus on his team coming out on top and remaining undefeated on the year.
"It was a chippy game from the beginning but we just stayed with our game plan," said Thompson. "It was a great team win."
Edmonton netminder Aaron Bold turned aside 30 shots as part of the Rush's stingy defense which has allowed just 39 goals through five games. Bold registered his division-leading fourth victory and lowered his league-leading goals-against average to 8.16. Rochester counterpart Matt Vinc, who is second amongst NLL netminders with an 8.59 GAA, was stellar between the pipes making 42 saves and keeping his team close in the first half.
The Rush opened up a quick 3-0 lead in the first quarter including goals from Curtis Knight and Cory Conway coming just 21 seconds apart. The Knighthawks responded with a pair of goals but Edmonton took a 4-2 lead into the break when Jeff Cornwall fired a low shot behind Vinc with less than one second remaining in the first quarter.
Vinc came up big for his team early in the second quarter as he turned aside a pair of quality chances the Rush created during a two-man advantage. The Knighthawks' penalty-killers did the rest to stop the Rush during the power play but just seconds after the advantage ended, Jeremy Thompson scored the lone goal of the quarter.
The remainder of the first half was dominated by the Rush defense as the stingiest unit in the league held the Knighthawks to just six shots in the second quarter. The defenses stood tall again in the third quarter, although Rochester did cut into the Edmonton lead on goals by Dan Dawson, with his second of the game, and newly re-signed Mike Accursi coming less than a minute apart. Conway's second goal of the game, and the Rush's second power-play tally of the night, put Edmonton up 6-4 heading into the final stanza.
McCready's goal 54 seconds into the fourth quarter brought the Knighthawks within one again, but Knight notched his second of the night, getting his low drive to trickle through Vinc's legs with one second to go on the shot clock.
The Knighthawks roared back in the dying moments to force overtime. Johnny Powless's unassisted marker pulled Rochester back to a one-goal deficit with 3:01 remaining, and Stephen Keogh tied the game with only 1:04 to go as the Knighthawks went with an extra attacker.
Rookie Riley Loewen had Edmonton's other goal, while Cody Jamieson added one goal for Rochester.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Cory Conway
2) Matt Vinc
3) Aaron Bold
The Rush are in Philadelphia next Saturday to take on the Wings at the Wells Fargo Center, while the Knighthawks are back home at the Blue Cross Arena on the same night to host the Buffalo Bandits.