The NLL's perfect season ended in the Mile High City as the Colorado Mammoth (6-10) downed the previously-unbeaten Edmonton Rush (14-1) by a score of 10-8 before a raucous crowd of 17,109 at Pepsi Center on Friday night.
Assessed a major penalty in the final five minutes of the game, the Mammoth defense held Edmonton to a lone goal en route to a critical win in their fight for the third and final playoff spot in the West Division.
“The guys knew it was a big game and they stepped up,” interim coach Dan Stroup commented. “It was a great team win tonight from Dillon [Ward] all the way up to the offense.”
John Grant, Jr.'s five points (4+1) and Drew Westervelt's six points (1+5) highlighted the Mammoth offense, while rookie Ward finished the night with 42 saves.
The Mammoth's captain was exuberant after the game, commending the team for sending the Denver crowd out on a high note in their home finale.
“That was not only the biggest win of the season, but I think in a few seasons,” Grant said. “We’ve let this crowd down quite a bit, and to get a big win, a crucial win…and to stop an undefeated streak at 14, there was a lot on this on. We’re pretty proud right now.”
Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan also praised Colorado in their win Friday, in a game where Edmonton tied the game twice, but never led.
“They earned it,” he said. “They played really hard and they came out strong early. They took it to us pretty hard. We got back in it, but ultimately they were hungrier than we were.”
Both teams were energetic up and down the floor in the opening minutes before Cam Holding sparked a three goal run by Colorado. Creighton Reid added onto the early Mammoth lead as well as Grant, who recorded a hat trick in the first half. Down 6-2 in the second frame, Cory Conway began a three-goal run for the Rush to narrow the gap to a one-goal disadvantage before heading into the locker room.
Curtis Knight tied the game for Edmonton just 58 seconds into the third before Drew Westervelt broke the Mammoth scoring drought seconds later. Holding tallied his second of the evening the waning moments of the third to give the lead back to the Mammoth 8-7.
Colorado would tally two more before Westervelt was assessed a major penalty with five-minutes left in the contest. Conway would score one for the Rush on the power play chance, but the Mammoth defense would hold strong until the final buzzer.
“They had them rattled throughout the game,” Grant added. “What can you say, Dillon Ward was unbelievable. I keep forgetting that guy is a rookie. That was one of the better performances I’ve ever seen.”
The first-round pick rookie goalie, who at third overall was the highest-drafted netminder in the NLL since the year 1999, was flattered at the notion, but all in all credited the entire defense in securing their sixth win of 2014.
“That was probably one of our best games defensively," Ward said. "We seemed to come together as a unit, we seemed to frustrate them a lot on offense and we were dictating what shots that they were going to take."
Ward finished the night with a .840 save percentage, playing the full 60 minutes and facing 50 shots on goal.
“It’s just lacrosse," Ward said. "I’ve been playing for almost 20 years now.”
Brodie MacDonald started for the Rush, a move Keenan commented was to give the young netminder experience before the postseason begins, but did not return in the second half due to injury. He registered 24 saves. Aaron Bold finished the game in place of MacDonald, recording 12 saves on 16 shots.
The enormous crowd went home happy on "Fan Appreciation Night" in Denver with their team still in the driver's seat for the third and final playoff spot.
"The fans are amazing here," Ward said. "There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the league. Their energy makes it so much easier to play.”
Colorado will hit the road to wrap up the regular season. Currently holding a game and a half lead over Vancouver for the final playoff spot, the Mammoth will head to Minnesota next weekend. Edmonton meanwhile will immediately head back to Alberta to play bitter rival Calgary tomorrow night.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Dillon Ward
2) John Grant, Jr.
3) Bob Snider