The Saskatchewan Rush aren’t taking anything for granted as the No. 1 seed in the West Division.
Back in 2012, the Rush were the bottom entry for the NLL playoffs, but they went on to stun the Calgary Roughnecks, the top overall seed, in the division semifinal. That edition of the Rush then blasted the Minnesota Swarm in the division final to earn their first crack at the league title.
Seven years later, the Rush (11-7) are beginning their quest for a second straight NLL Cup against the Colorado Mammoth (6-12) on Friday night in Saskatoon. The Rush not only finished their regular-season campaign with a 13-8 win over the Mammoth – a victory carved out by an 11-1 cushion at halftime – but they have dominated Colorado for some time. Last week’s win guaranteed the Rush home-turf advantage throughout the West playoffs.
“Playing at home is always a treat for us,” said Rush defenseman Matt Hossack. “The energy we get from the crowd keeps us firing on all cylinders for 60 minutes. We are going to need it this weekend so we can make a run in the coming weeks.”
Saskatchewan has won seven in a row against the Mammoth and 12 of their last 14 regular-season games, including back-to-back season-series sweeps. On top of that, the Rush hold a two-game sweep in the only playoff series between the rivals. The 2017 West Division Final opened with the Rush scoring 14 goals in the second half of game one on their way to an 18-9 shellacking of the Mammoth in Denver. The victory set Rush single-game playoff records for total goals, goals in one half, goals in one quarter (9), and goals by one player (Adam Jones, 6). A week later, the Rush finished off the series and the Mammoth’s season with an 11-10 win in Saskatoon.
A few faces in the Rush lineup have changed since they won their third league title last spring, but the vast majority of the cast remains the same, including 2015 Playoff MVP and reigning League MVP Mark Matthews, along with 2018 Playoff MVP Jeff Shattler.
Matthews led the Rush in scoring again this season, becoming only the second player in NLL history to record five straight 100-plus point seasons. Meanwhile, Shattler was one off his career-high in goals with 34 this season and he led the NLL with five game-winning goals.
It will take something special from the Mammoth to knock off the Rush – either a huge performance from goaltender Dillon Ward, who was chased after seven goals last Saturday only to return minutes later, or a breakout offensive showing from rookie sensation Kyle Killen (28 goals, 49 points). The Mammoth did get some good news out of last weekend’s loss, however, as Jeremy Noble, who had been swallowed up by a season-long scoring drought, collected three goals against the Rush and looked like his old self.
Faceoff between the Mammoth and Rush in the West Division Semi-Finals is set for Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET on B/R Live.