After months of grueling games, hard-run practices, and countless hours of travel time, the 2018 Saskatchewan Rush season has come down to one date on the calendar.
Saturday, June 9.
The Rush will meet the Rochester Knighthawks in the deciding game of the best-of-three NLL Cup Final series. Win this one single game left for the season and you are crowned champions. Let’s not even discuss what happens with alternate ending.
So, the Rush are runnin’ back to Saskatoon one more time.
“Why not?” chuckled Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan at the proposition of that season-ending trip.
His club could have wrapped up the title last Saturday in Rochester, but the play of Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc and the Rush’s own misfortunes put that plan to waste. With the series tied at a win apiece, the two teams are set to clash one last time.
The Rush didn’t bring their ‘A’ game to Game 2 in Rochester and the final score was every bit evidence of that. But that’s not to say the Rush can’t pick themselves back up and have a Game 3 that was just as good or better than the 16-9 pounding they put on the Knighthawks in Game 1.
“Last year, we settled into a bit of complacency, so this year, we came in with a chip on our shoulder,” said Rush captain Chris Corbeil after the Game 2 defeat. “One goal in mind, unapologetically focused on winning another championship.
“That’s the message I said to the guys when I got into the room tonight. We battled all season long. Let’s put tonight behind us because we’ve got one game to win a championship, and if you had offered that at the start of the year, I think the guys would have taken it.
“We’ve got a fantastic opportunity next Saturday on our home floor. It’s great. This is why you play lacrosse, for nights like next Saturday, and I can’t wait.”
Keenan reviewed the game twice and had no trouble summing the Rush’s issues and where they need to be better in Game 3.
“We have to better offensively,” Keenan first noted. “We got a fair number of shots but they weren’t the quality we needed and Vinc was outstanding. We need to get to the paint, get to the dirty areas, and get some better angles.
“And I thought we were a bit hesitant to shoot the ball and that gave Vinc time to recover. We need to have an assertive plan and not be hesitant.”
The Rush had a handful of excellent opportunities in the first quarter and came up short especially on fast-breaks in transition. Combine that with Vinc’s heroics, a few crossbars, a missed breakaway and some poor shot selection and the Rush were left frustrated. Saskatchewan was also nailed for five minor penalties, and while some were a shade on the dubious side, the Rush couldn’t afford the time to kill off penalties while trying to mount a comeback. At one point in the game, the Rush were assessed four consecutive penalties, and in the end were dinged for two bad substitutions. Keenan certainly indicated better discipline will be a key for his team in Game 3.
Not that there’s much that can be done, certainly in retrospect, but the Rush will also benefit from not having to travel to Rochester a second time in this series. The team ended up having a number of players not arrive until after midnight on Friday due to travel issues which resulted in the Rush not practicing before Game 2.
Saskatchewan’s 14-4 regular-season record, which afforded them first overall and home-turf advantage throughout the playoffs, will pay dividends with the series going the distance.
“We’ll get things back to normal,” said Keenan. “Everybody will get in early, we’ll practice Friday afternoon, and get good food and some good rest.”
Faulty Faceoffs: The Knighthawks have dominated the faceoff spot in the final – a none-too-big surprise considering rookie Jake Withers led the NLL during the season in faceoff wins. He has gone 36-for-50 during the Cup Final, while the Rush’s Jeremy Thompson, who is consistently amongst the top-five for faceoff wins the past few regular seasons, is just 12-for-44. Mike Messenger has fared a little better on the ‘X’ for the Rush at 5-for-10 in the Final, but it’s not the win-loss comparison that has bothered Coach Keenan.
“The issue is when we give up a 2-on-1,” said Keenan. “We were lucky they didn’t score because Kirky made a couple big saves, but we shouldn’t be giving those up. We got caught chasing the ball.”