The Saskatchewan Rush remained the National Lacrosse League’s only undefeated team at home and in the process clinched a home playoff date with a 16-12 victory over the Vancouver Stealth on Saturday night in Saskatoon.
Mark Matthews led the Rush attack with seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) while Adam Jones notched four goals, including a pair during Saskatchewan’s six-goal outburst in the third quarter. The Rush (10-4) now lead Colorado by 2½ games in the West Division and hold a game in-hand on the Mammoth, while the Stealth (6-9) fall one-half game behind Calgary for the third and final playoff spot.
“It was a really good win for us,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan, who tied the mark for the all-time lead in NLL coaching wins with his 121st victory behind the bench.
“Defensively, we were outstanding. We executed in the defensive end exactly the way we had planned, and offensively, we really got going.”
The two-time defending Champion’s Cup title-holders can finish no worse than second in the division and picked up the key victory before a sellout crowd of 15,045 at the SaskTel Centre.
“We focused on shutting down their transition and not letting them get much, and our defense was flying down the floor in transition,” said Rush rookie defender Mike Messenger, who scored an unassisted goal and went 15-for-18 on face-offs.
The Rush quickly erased Vancouver’s early 1-0 lead with goals from Jones and Adrian Sorichetti just 12 seconds apart. That launched a run of six straight goals by Saskatchewan with Ryan Keenan’s low shot from outside finding the net and Ben McIntosh whipping a sidearm shot past Stealth goalie Tye Belanger on the power play to make it 4-1 before the end of the first quarter.
Jeremy Thompson extended Saskatchewan’s lead as he buried a breakaway opportunity set up by a stretch pass from Rush goalie Aaron Bold, who had just made a terrific toe save. The Rush flushed Belanger from the Vancouver net when they made it 6-1 on Matthews’ shot from the slot on a feed from Thompson. The Stealth finally ended the Rush’s run with back-to-back goals courtesy Joel McCready only 21 seconds apart, but Saskatchewan snuffed out the threat of a rally when Jones picked the corner for his second and Matthews followed as he burst past a defender and beat Richards through the legs. Vancouver’s Rhys Duch beat Bold with a shot over the shoulder to make it 8-4 before halftime.
The two teams traded goals early in the third before the Rush potted four in a row to take control of the game. Rookie Mike Messenger answered a breakaway goal from Vancouver with a solo dash of his own to put the Rush up 11-6, and Jeff Cornwall padded the Saskatchewan cushion as he scrambled into the Stealth zone, looked off a pass and rifled a shot behind Richards. Jones hit for his hat-trick tally when long-range rocket and then counted his fourth of the night with a highlight-reel effort to make it 14-6. Jones deftly spun away from the Stealth defender, went airborne as he approached the Vancouver crease, and then tucked his shot into the net.
Saskatchewan jumped ahead 15-7 early in the fourth when Keenan’s quick-stick shot from the slot zipped to the top corner. The Stealth took advantage of some late chances with McCready and Duch each counting their hat-trick tallies amongst the opportunities, but the Rush put a stop to the late charge.