The Edmonton Rush equaled the National Lacrosse League's record for the best-ever start to a season as they improved to 8-0 with an 11-10 victory over the Toronto Rock (4-5).
Edmonton's undefeated start tied the NLL mark originally set by the 1993 edition of the Buffalo Bandits. The Bandits finished the regular season at a perfect 8-0 and added two more wins in the playoffs to win the title and end the year 10-0.
Mark Matthews, Cory Conway, and rookie Riley Loewen each had two goals and goaltender Aaron Bold managed 37 saves to pace the Rush to the victory before a season-high crowd of 8,015 at Rexall Place.
"I don't think our guys felt any pressure on that," said Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan about the record-tying feat. "Honestly, there wasn't any talk in our room about that."
Keenan, a star player on the '93 Buffalo team, saw his team overcome a rock start to the game courtesy of a bye week in the schedule. But key saves from Rush goalie Aaron Bold in the second quarter paved the way to strong finish and a big win.
"We were rusty and a little tentative on defense but we got a lot better as the game went on. In the fourth quarter, I thought we played really well," said Keenan.
Edmonton's win was their first at home against Toronto since the 2011 season - a fact not lost on even the youngest members of the Rush.
"I think we were more emotional about beating Toronto. We didn't even really talk about getting to 8-0," said Loewen. "We got off to a slow start but our defense played great down the stretch and that's what won the game for us."
The Canadian rivals started the game with a bang as Rush captain Chris Corbeil and the Rock's Scott Johnston dropped the gloves and engaged in a spirited scrap only 20 seconds in. A run-and-gun first quarter ensued with the high-octane Rock offense getting a power-play goal from Stephan Leblanc and a breakaway tally from Garrett Billings, while the Rush countered with a pair from leading scorer Mark Matthews. Kasey Beirnes scored twice for the Rock with his second coming with under one second to go in the first, giving the Rock a 4-3 edge.
Both goaltenders stepped up early in the second quarter. Edmonton's Aaron Bold robbed Toronto's Josh Sanderson in tight - the second stop coming as the Rush goalie lunged across the crease to get his arm on the rebound. At the other end, Rock netminder Nick Rose stood tall making a terrific save on Matthews. The Rock took a two-goal lead on a goal by Colin Doyle, but the Rush responded late in the quarter. Cory Conway's low bullet beat Rose and a power-play marker from rookie Robert Church sent the team into halftime knotted at 5-5.
The teams exchanged power-play goals in the third quarter. Curtis Knight gave the Rush a 6-5 lead on an Edmonton two-man advantage, but the Rock brought it even as Beirnes notched his hat trick goal when the Rush penalized for an illegal substitution.
The offenses of both teams roared to life in the fourth quarter. Josh Sanderson closed the Rush lead with another power-play goal for the Rock, but Edmonton then fired in three straight during a run that proved to be too much for the Rock to overcome. Jarrett Davis brought the Rush even at 7-7 before Jeremy Thompson's rocket beat Rose to the top corner. Loewen added his second of the night 1:19 later to make it 9-7 for the Rush.
Toronto closed the Edmonton lead to 10-9 on Scott Johnston's goal, but Rush defender Brett Mydske notched the eventual game-winner into an empty net with 44 seconds to go. The Rock did inch closer 10 seconds later on Leblanc's second goal but Toronto failed to get a final crack at forcing overtime.
"We thought we needed a measuring stick to see where we are at and I thought we measured up well," said Toronto GM Terry Sanderson. "It was a one-goal game that could have gone either way. Unfortunately we wound up on the wrong end.
"They got those three goals (in the fourth quarter) and that was a big advantage. Sometimes those runs don't mean a whole lot and we answered two or three different times to show what we're made of, but that one was definitely the difference."
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Aaron Bold
2) Riley Loewen
3) Kasey Beirnes
The Rock will need to bounce back quickly from the loss as they travel to Calgary to play the Roughnecks at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET live on TSN2 (Canada) & ESPN3 (U.S.). The Rush are back home Saturday, March 8 against the Vancouver Stealth.