Edmonton Rush (15-2) host Vancouver Stealth at Rexall Place on Friday at 9:30pm ET for season finale. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)
Headed for a first-round playoff bye as the top overall seed in the National Lacrosse League, the Edmonton Rush (15-2) host the Vancouver Stealth (4-12) for a final tuneup in their 2014 regular season finale at Rexall Place on Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Derek Keenan isn’t going to let the Rush coast into the playoffs.
Edmonton may have the No. 1 seed and home-turf advantage locked up for the drive to the NLL Champion’s Cup, but that doesn’t mean they are going to be a getting night off when they wrap up the regular season on Friday night against the visiting Stealth.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“We want to ramp things up and get to a playoff tempo to be the best we can be,” said the Rush GM/head coach. “We need to fix a few things as well.”
The Rush let leads slip away, didn’t bear down on opportunities, and let sniper Curtis Dickson burn them for seven goals last Saturday as they lost their first game of the year at Rexall Place in falling 14-13 in overtime to the Calgary Roughnecks. The loss prevented the Rush from sweeping the season series against their arch-rivals, and maybe gave the Roughnecks a bit of a lift as the two teams seemed destined to meet in the two-game West Division Final. Calgary has to get past Colorado first in the one-game West Semifinal while the Rush have earned a first-round bye.
The primary piece of education the Rush can take from that loss to Calgary was one that they can hold onto heading into the playoffs.
“When you have the opportunity to put a good opponent away you have to put them away,” said Keenan. “You have to keep your foot on the gas when you have a lead.”
The Rush have buried a few teams along the way this season, but the Stealth have not been one of them. Edmonton has won both games – both being one-goal decisions including the most-recent meeting which came on the Rush’s home floor. The Rush needed three goals in the fourth quarter to muscle past Vancouver 10-9. Prior to that, the Rush overcame a 7-2 halftime deficit to beat Vancouver 9-8 in a win that was largely aided by a terrific off-the-bench performance from backup netminder Brodie MacDonald.
The Rush have won eight of their last nine regular-season meetings with the Stealth (Vancouver/Washington).
“We’re looking forward to working harder and getting better,” said the Rush’s Mark Matthews, who set a new single-season scoring record for the team last week against Calgary. Matthews now stands at 76 points on year, which eclipsed Ryan Ward’s previous franchise high of 75 set last season.
And with one game remaining on the schedule, Rush captain Chris Corbeil needs two goals against Vancouver to break Brodie Merrill’s team record of 17 goals by transition/defenceman in a single season set in 2010.
For the Stealth, this will be their final road game of the season as look to avoid a season sweep. In both of the previous meetings between these two teams, it came right down to the wire, but unfortunately for the Stealth, they were on the losing end of two one goal games.
This Friday’s matchup will feature some different storylines, as the Stealth have already been eliminated from the playoffs and look to finish the season on a high note. The Rush, on the other hand, have a bye to Western Division final and will await the winner of the first round playoff matchup between Calgary and Colorado.
Even though the Rush have secured top spot, Stealth head coach, Chris Hall, knows it’s going to be a battle.
"In this league, you have to be motivated every time you step on the floor. We want players that are prideful in what they do and take responsibility for how they perform," said Hall. “We'll be assessing players to see if they fit with the future and us getting back on track for next year."
The players know there’s still lots to play for, but it’s a matter of showing it on the floor. One thing is for sure, they’ll be playing for a roster spot.
"You should be motivated every weekend,” said Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen, reaffirming what his coach alluded to. “Guys are playing for jobs now and if anything that should be motivation in itself."
In last weekend’s 15-11 loss to the Wings, the Stealth again struggled to stay motivated for a full 60 minutes, which has been an issue for the team all year.
“When you sit down and think about it, it’s about having the will to want to win,” said Sorensen. “I don't want to say we didn't want to win, but when you look at the other side, it just seemed like they wanted it that much more. When we had success this year we did want it more, and obviously it wasn't there all season, and our record shows it.”
Following Friday night’s game in Edmonton the Stealth will return home for their final game of the season when they face the Calgary Roughnecks on Fan Appreciation Night, at 7PM PST, at the LEC.
Fan Appreciation Night will be the final opportunity of the season for fans to see their favourite Stealth players up close, as the full Stealth roster will be signing autographs following Saturday’s game. The Bombshells and Bomber the Fox will also be signing autographs for fans post-game.
Vancouver Stealth 2015 Season Tickets are also on sale now, starting at just $99 plus fees. Buy or renew before the end of the first quarter at Saturday's (April 26) game to be entered into a draw for a chance to win a trip for 2 to a Stealth road game in a Canadian city next season. The draw will be made following the first quarter and the winner will be announced during the game.