The Saskatchewan Rush were badly in need of an offensive outburst and it came at the most opportune time.
A four-goal fourth quarter combined with a stellar performance from netminder Evan Kirk paved the way to the Rush earning a 9-7 victory over the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday night. The win, before a crowd of 11,982 at SaskTel Centre, lifted the Rush (4-2) to their first home-turf win of the season and kept Saskatchewan in top spot in the NLL’s West Division. On top of all that, the victory earned the Rush a 2-1 edge in the season-series between the divisional rivals and helped the Rush quash any momentum the Mammoth (4-6) had gained from beating Saskatchewan in their previous two visits to Saskatoon, including last season’s West Division Semifinal.
“A huge win,” said Kirk, who racked up 33 saves on the night. “We had to put it all together at home. It’s good to get a full team win. To get that (winless at home) monkey off our back is absolutely huge. These fans are instrumental for our play and getting them a win is awesome.”
The two teams entered the fourth quarter tied 5-5, and the typically tight defensive struggled between the two teams flipped into an offensive showdown. Matt Hossack gave the Rush a 6-5 edge as he finished off a transition breakout orchestrated by Mike Messenger, who rolled off a check and tossed a pass to Hossack who buried his shot – a slick birthday present for the third-year pro who had just turned 26 years old. The Mammoth answered only 44 seconds later on Eli McLaughlin’s goal, but the Rush regained a one-goal lead just 15 seconds after that on Ryan Keenan’s second of the night. Keenan beat Colorado goalie Dillon Ward short side after a slick pass from Mark Matthews, who looked to be headed behind the Mammoth net only to flip a backhand pass to Keenan.
Just moments after Matthews was foiled on a quick-stick release by Ward on a contender for Save of the Year, Keenan turned playmaker to make it 8-6 as he set up Jeff Shattler’s second of the game. McLaughlin again brought Colorado within one as his spectacular backhand bounce shot eluded Kirk, but the Rush came right back 50 seconds later with all the insurance they would need. Stationed in the corner, Ben McIntosh broke for the crease, threw a spin-a-rama on the Colorado defender and then beat Ward over the shoulder to make it 9-7.
The Mammoth held a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes on goals by Jacob Ruest and Chris Wardle with captain Chris Corbeil answering on a breakaway for the Rush. Shattler tied the game lead early in the second before Jeff Cornwall gave the Rush their first lead. The speedy transition pushed the ball ahead for himself, snared it off the turf, and the snapped a shot past Ward. After McLaughlin tied the game on a Mammoth power play, Keenan put the Rush ahead just eight seconds before halftime as he darted for the net and finished off a passing play between McIntosh and Robert Church, who finished the night with four assists. Marty Dinsdale added three helpers in the Rush attack.
“As long as we stay together as a unit, not worry about what the other team’s defence is doing, and focus on what we can do as an offence, it’s going to make us a stronger group,” said Shattler of a Rush offence that came alive after scoring a total of just 14 goals in its previous two home games.
Both teams’ goaltenders were sensational throughout the game. After letting the first shot of the night get by him, Kirk walled up his net, making his best save of the night in the second quarter when he got his pad on a diving attempt by Wardle. At the other end, Ward was brilliant, totaling 44 saves, highlighted by his stop on Matthews as well as a breakaway save on Holden Garlent and stretching out to block Keenan’s drive on a Rush power play.
The Rush, who have four games in-hand on the Mammoth, go on the road next weekend for their first-ever visit to Halifax to take on the North Division-leading Thunderbirds.
Ryan Lee and Joey Cupido also scored for the Mammoth, while McLaughlin wound up with five points. The Mammoth, who are back home next Saturday against the San Diego Seals, have now lost three straight since beating the Rush.