Spoiling Toronto’s first Champion’s Cup Finals home game since 2011, the Edmonton Rush topped the Toronto Rock by a score of 15-9 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night to take a 1-0 series lead as the teams head out west for Game 2 next weekend.
Mark Matthews, Robert Church and Ben McIntosh combined for 18 points to help the lift the Rush past the Rock. The win for Edmonton has them just one win away from taking the league crown for the first time in team history.
“We like our game plan, I thought we executed it well tonight,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “It terms of our compete, we were hard tonight, but we have to even harder next week because the stakes are even higher. We got to keep that high tempo.”
The Rock opened the game’s scoring by potting a pair of goals (Kasey Beirnes, Brock Sorensen) just over three minutes after first whistle. Edmonton sharpshooter Matthews answered back however, snipping a pair of goals over a five-minute span. Over the frame’s final 5:12, the Rush exploded for three-straight (McIntosh, Church, Jarrett Davis) to push their lead to 5-2 heading into the second quarter.
“We shouldn’t have been [surprised],” said Rock veteran Colin Doyle, who had just a goal and an assist on the night. “We knew what they were capable, I certainly hope it wasn’t a case of us underestimating them.”
Riley Loewen capped a 6-0 Edmonton run with a tally a couple minutes into the second frame. Stopping the Rock drought, Beirnes and Rob Hellyer each scored on rocket shots to shrink the deficit to 6-4 with 9:12 reaming in the half. The Rush, continuing their aggressive play, went on to score the next three en route to a 9-4 halftime lead.
“I think being down 2-0 early, we were good defensively for the rest of that quarter,” said Keenan. “And we got things going on the other end. Tonight we had guys make plays – Greer, Matthews, the whole group.”
Playoff heroes Brett Hickey and Josh Sanderson were each held pointless over the first half.
“I can’t point the finger on any one guy,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “There were 16 guys who made mistakes tonight.”
“That was a total team effort in terms of lack of what we do well,” he added.
Kevin Crowley and Matthews trade goals before the Rock went on a 3-1 mini run to shrink the Rush advantage to 11-8. Zack Greer, with 45 seconds left in the frame, scored Edmonton’s twelfth in the slot.
Edmonton continued what eventually became a 4-0 run to start the fourth frame before Hickey scored his first and only tally of the night. The late 15-9 deficit held solid until the game’s final whistle.
A week following a defensive gem against Rochester, the Rock allowed a season-high 15 goals on Saturday night for the third time this season. Edmonton scored 15 against the Rock Feb. 27, a game where the Rock actually came away with a 16-15 OT win.
But on Saturday night the Rock struggled mightily to find any rhythm as 6-0, 4-1 and 3-1 Rush runs killed any chance for sustained momentum.
“That’s what happens when you play a good team like that,” said Lovell. “They forced a lot of the mistakes we made.”
The Rush on the other hand found huge success on transition. Transition specialist Jeremy Thompson put up a couple goals and an assist in the victory. His three point total is his highest this playoff.
“I thought we shot the ball well, we payed attention to a shooting plan,” Keenan said. “We created a lot of chances on transition as well as five-on-five.”
Rock goalie Brandon Miller got the call in net, but was pulled on two different occasions. Miller played 38:20 total on the night and allowed 12 goals on 35 shots for a .657 save percentage. Backup Nick Rose played nearly 22 minutes in the loss and made 16 saves on 19 shots.
“I don’t think he made the saves that Brandon Miller normally makes,” said Lovell.
On the other end of the floor, Aaron Bold stood tall and made 39 saves 48 for a .812 save percentage. Bold, over four playoff games is now 3-1 with a 9.20 goals against average, good enough for tops in the league.
“They’re talented shooters, they can put the ball in the net,” said Bold of the Rock offense. “But we were lucky enough to have our defense to keep the shots from the outside. Work ethic paid off tonight.”
Matthews (3+3), Church (3+3) and McIntosh (2+4) led all scorers with six points a piece on the night.
Crowley (2+2) and Hellyer (1+3) each scored four points on the night, while Leblanc (0+3) followed up with three assists.
The Rock now have their backs against the wall, and in less than a week they will be fighting for their playoff lives on the road. Lovell said he takes solace in his teams’ 7-3 road record this season.
“Certainly, absolutely we [look at our road record],” said Lovell. “I’ll start with our goaltending, we’ve got two pretty good guys here and one of them is going in the net next week and he’s going to give us a game.
“Everything that went wrong here tonight, we normally do well…it’s up to our guys to get their game going. We didn’t lose because Edmonton is so great, we lost because what we normally do well, we didn’t do tonight.”
Toronto is 5-0 this year following a loss.
Game 2 will take place on Friday at Rexall Place in Edmonton at 9:30 p.m. ET with Edmonton looking to clinch its first-ever NLL title. If the Rock even the series with a win, Game 3 will return to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, June 13.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Mark Matthews
2) Aaron Bold
3) Robert Church
By Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.