With the NLL’s West Division locked up, the Edmonton Rush (11-5) will look to tighten up its game this week against the Minnesota Swarm (5-11) when they visit Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
The Rush earned first place in the West with its 13-12 win last week over the Colorado Mammoth. They held a 13-6 lead, but allowed Colorado to score six in a row to bring the game within one. Luckily, they were able to hang on.
“We were happy with the result last week,” said Edmonton Head Coach and GM Derek Keenan. “I don’t think we were thrilled with our fourth quarter, but we did finish it off and managed to get the win and clinch first place, so that was really important for us. It really important for us going forward that we continue to try and get better and put together sixty minutes. I think that’s been a bit of a struggle for us.”
“We’re playing a team that, very early in the season made a big comeback on us, and we don’t want that to happen again.”
When asked if is team could have a problem with focus leading up to the playoffs, Keenan wasn’t worried.
“I think they’re going to be pretty focused. We want to try and get better, I think we can be a lot better, and we need to play more consistent, we’ve talked about that a lot lately and we’ve got to find it here in the next two weeks.”
Rush defender Kyle Rubisch is taking these final games as an opportunity.
“It gives us the opportunity to shore some things up and regain our focus, and have some games leading up into the playoffs that was can prepare and play like they are playoff games,” said Rubisch. “In this league, if you don’t bring it, any team can beat you- every team’s competitive.”
Edmonton can still clinch the top overall seed in the league if they win out and the Rochester Knighthawks win the East Division. Both teams would be 13-5, but Edmonton won their only matchup of the season, giving them the tiebreaker. Rochester would need to win out, and have Toronto lose its final game of the season against the New England Black Wolves.
The Rush announced on Tuesday that they have re-signed Edmonton born defender John Lintz to a two-year contract extension. Lintz sits sixth in the league in caused turnovers and has recovered 68 loose balls.
Aaron Bold may sit out the game to recuperate before the playoffs. If he does, Tyler Carlson will start in his place against his former team. Carlson has only played 13:01 this season, and stopped seven out of the ten shots he faced. In his four seasons in the league, Carlson has maintained a .749 SV% and has played more than 498 minutes as a starter in his previous three seasons with the Swarm.
Even though the Swarm has been knocked out playoff contention, they will be ready to give the Rush a run for their money. The last time the two teams met was in Rush territory in January, where the Swarm rallied back from a 9-5 deficit in the third quarter to a 14-10 win.
This weekend’s Swarm team will have a shuffled roster, but the energy will be no less intense. Between roster trades and injuries, six of the players who took the field for the Swarm in Edmonton will not play this Saturday. The three key players who are out with injuries are forward Callum Crawford, transition Jordan MacIntosh and defense Kiel Matisz. The trio combined for a total of 15 points in their last contest with Edmonton.
With key veterans out of the lineup, Saturday’s game will be a chance for the rookies and young players on the team to prove their worth and contend for a spot on the core of the team. The Minnesota coaches fully expect a spark of stamina as a peek into the successful future of the team.
“It’s a good chance for guys to show what they can do. Last weekend we had a very young lineup. I don’t think there was a player over the age of 26 out the front door and I thought they battled hard and played well,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “Pretty disappointed with the loss, but the compete level was there and I thought it was a good effort. Being eliminated from the playoffs isn’t easy, but I think with the group we have, they’re professionals and they’re going to give 100%. So we look forward to that challenge this weekend.”
Among the rookies raring to go is the famed forward Miles Thompson, who has 54 points this season; transition player Sam Bradman, whose first goal of the season brought his team back into the battle in last Saturday’s loss against Calgary; and defenseman Pat Miles, who has 4 assists and 31 loose balls in his 7 games.
“We have a good group of guys in Minnesota so it’s a disappointment we didn’t make the playoffs this year,” Miles said. “But we have two more games left, we have a tough game against Edmonton this weekend. We’re going game by game to improve and we’re going every night and battling hard.”
A standout performer who can be seen making moves all over the field that don’t always show up on the stat sheet is transition Corbyn Tao. Tao has 20 points (10+10) and has gathered a personal season-high 67 loose balls this season, but it’s his role beyond the numbers that makes him valuable to his team.
“Corbyn Tao stands out in my mind. He’s been given a lot of roles this year, either taking faceoffs now that MacIntosh is out and playing ‘O’. He gets loose balls for our ‘O’ guys,” Caines said. “He’s not a guy we talk about a lot but he’s definitely an unsung hero on our team.”
Even though the playoffs aren’t in the picture this year, the Swarm is full of capable players who are ready to get on the turf, play their hearts out, and give their crowd something to scream about.
“These guys are professionals and they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game,” Caines said. “We’re going to look for guys to be energetic and just give 100%. Our game plans are going to be the same as we’re preparing for any game, with the film and practice, so just look for a great effort from our guys.”
By Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) and Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Dale MacMillan.