The Edmonton Rush (14-0) secured the NLL regular season title and home-turf advantage throughout the National Lacrosse League playoffs and stretched their record-setting winning streak to 14 games with a nail-biting 12-11 win over the Colorado Mammoth (5-10) on Saturday night in Edmonton.
The victory, which was Edmonton's third of the year over its West Division rival, was largely bolstered by the Rush setting a team record for the four fastest consecutive goals scored by the club coming in just 1:36 early in the third quarter. That offensive outbreak, coming before a season-high crowd of 8,275 at Rexall Place, gave the Rush a seemingly insurmountable 11-5 lead but it nearly slipped away against a strong comeback bid by the Mammoth.
"(The Mammoth) played hard for 60 minutes and we played hard for about 15. We were just terrible," said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. "I'm glad we got the win and clinched first place but we took a step backwards and we need to refocus. We made too many mistakes and let them back in it."
Leading 7-5, the Rush's offense ignited at the start of the third beginning with rookie Riley Loewen's second of the night as he twisted past Colorado defender John Gallant at the top of the crease and fired a shot behind Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward. Curtis Knight put the Rush up 9-5 with a power-play marker and Cory Conway, who notched five assists on the night, followed with a shot over Ward's shoulder. Just six seconds after the Conway goal, Jeremy Thompson took possession off the faceoff and beat Ward again which briefly chased the rookie netminder to the Colorado bench.
But the Mammoth weren't completely undone by the torrid Rush attack. The Mammoth put away four straight goals of their own, as John Grant Jr. completed a hat trick with a pair that left Colorado down 11-9 at the end of three quarters.
Sean Pollock's second goal of the game got the Mammoth to within one, but Colorado's furious comeback was cut short with 2:14 left in the fourth when Knight's shot was initially stopped by Ward but the ball wound up trickling over the goal line. Athan Iannucci's second of the night pulled the Mammoth close again with 58 seconds left but the Rush defense held in the dying moments.
"It's great that we got our home-field advantage for the playoffs but we would have liked to have got it with a better effort," said Rush defender Kyle Rubisch, who totaled eight forced turnovers in the game, giving him 46 on the year and breaking his own league record of 44 set last season.
Pollock gave the Mammoth a quick lead, scoring on the first shot of the game against Rush goalie Aaron Bold, but Edmonton quickly replied when Zack Greer was awarded a goal upon video review that overruled the initial call on the floor of foot in the crease.
The teams swapped goals throughout the rest of the opening quarter with a marker by Dan Coates putting Colorado up 4-3 at the break. The Rush offense got rolling in the second quarter, putting four goals behind Ward. Greer notched his second on the power play to pull the Rush even, putting a quick-stick release past Ward from the edge of the crease.
The Rush then fired in a pair of transition goals coming just 23 seconds apart. Rush captain Chris Corbeil put a great pass over to Loewen who cashed in on a 2-on-1 break, and then Brett Mydske collected a rebound off the endboards and tucked a shot past Ward. Grant got a goal back for the Mammoth but Mark Matthews restored the Rush's two-goal lead and gave Edmonton a 7-5 advantage headed into halftime.
Jeff Cornwall and Jarrett Davis had Edmonton's other goals. Adam Jones, Drew Westervelt, and Bob Snider rounded out Colorado's goal scoring.
Despite the loss, the Mammoth retain third spot in the NLL's West Division ahead of the Vancouver Stealth. Colorado will get another chance to knock the Rush off their undefeated pedestal when the teams meet for the final time during the regular season on Friday, April 11 in Denver.
"We could taste it but we just couldn't finish it in the end," said interim Colorado coach Dan Stroup.
"It was good to see our guys not quit and we're proud of they way they battled. We just had that little lapse in the third quarter and that's the tough part of this game. That lapse was the difference."
After playing in Denver on Friday, the Rush will head back into Canada the next night to face the arch-rival Roughnecks in Calgary.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Cory Conway
2) Curtis Knight
3) John Grant Jr.