A 5-for-5 performance on the power play paced the Saskatchewan Rush to their 10th win in the last 11 games against the arch-rival Calgary Roughnecks.
Mark Matthews netted three goals, including the game-winner on a third-quarter man-advantage, as the Rush cruised to a 10-6 victory before a sold-out crowd of 15,075 fans at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. The win secured a playoff spot for the Rush (9-2) as well as the season-series against the Roughnecks (4-6) for the third year in a row.
“It’s big to win the season series and we have the advantage on everybody in the division,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan, whose team had a four-game winning streak snapped in Rochester last weekend.
“We’re undefeated in the division and that gives us a leg up to finishing first overall. It was a good bounce back game for us. We had a really good first quarter, (Evan) Kirk was good when we needed him to be good, and our power play came through for us.”
Matthews helped the Rush get off to a quick start as he pocketed two goals in the first quarter. The Rush’s leading scorer made it 2-0 coming off a pick, taking a short pass from Ryan Keenan, and then gunning a shot to the top corner past Calgary goalie Christian Del Bianco. After Calgary responded with a Wes Berg power-play marker, Matthews made it 3-1 as he whipped a shot in off the wing. Marty Dinsdale made it 4-1 before the first quarter ended as he tip-toed at the crease and tucked a high shot in.
Berg made it 4-2 on another Calgary power play but just 44 seconds later, Jeff Shattler added to the Rush lead on a power play and earned his second goal of the net as he faked two shots at the edge of the net and then slid a low shot in. The Roughnecks recharged after that, however, and counted two goals 30 seconds apart both by Curtis Dickson. The Calgary sniper closed out the gap to 5-4 when he bounced off two hits, stepped into open space and sailed a shot over the shoulder of Rush goalie Evan Kirk.
The Rush dominated the third quarter and pulled away from the Roughnecks. Dinsdale notched his second of the night as he drove for the net and sent a tricky bounce shot inside the far post to make it 6-4. Matthews upped the Rush lead on the power play as he unleashed a rocket from the top of the slot, and just 20 second after that, Robert Church got in on the man-advantage act, with a hot shot that made it 8-4.
Berg kept the Roughnecks reasonably close early the fourth with two more goals, including a dunk shot from behind the Rush net, but Saskatchewan made Calgary pay with a pair of power-play markers. Matthews dished a pass off to Ben McIntosh and he pumped a shot home, and Jeremy Thompson closed out the scoring with 1:58. The Rush transition collected the ball at midfield and outdueled Del Bianco who was racing back to his net as the Roughnecks had pulled the netminder for an extra attacker despite being shorthanded.
Matthews finished with seven points as he and Keenan both counted four assists. Kirk was named the game’s first star in totaling 37 saves.
“We needed to have a great game and play a full 60 minutes and we accomplished that,” said Kirk, who boasts a league-leading eight wins. “Our defence was huge in front of me and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Dane Dobbie picked up five assists for the Roughnecks, who got 41 saves from Del Bianco.
The Rush’s two-game homestand concludes next Saturday as they host the Vancouver Stealth. The Roughnecks have a bye next weekend and return to action March 10th on the road against the Colorado Mammoth.