Eight straight regular-season victories over the same team is something to be proud of, but the Saskatchewan Rush still have a bigger mission in mind.
That task will have to wait, however, as gaining a full measure of revenge against the Colorado Mammoth will only come at playoff time should the two teams meet again. Last spring, the Mammoth derailed the Rush’s shot at second consecutive NLL title with a stunning overtime upset in the West Semifinal. For now, the Rush will look to keep their run of success rolling in regular-season play against their division rival, which included winning an Opening Night clash in Denver 9-7. They’ll renew acquaintances on Saturday at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon (8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT).
“We have a little bit of revenge on our mind this weekend because we lost in the playoffs at home last year to Colorado, and we want to fix that,” said Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan, whose team is 3-1 on the year, but have only played one home game. They are a perfect 3-0 on the road and are coming off a convincing 12-9 win over the San Diego Seals last Sunday in Southern California.
Meanwhile, the Mammoth (3-2) lost by the same 12-9 count last Saturday in Halifax despite another solid performance from leading scorer Ryan Lee, who sits amongst the NLL’s top-10 in points (tied for eighth with Saskatchewan’s Mark Matthews) and assists (tied for ninth).
While the Rush have dominated the most recent regular-season play against the Mammoth (11 wins in the last 13 meetings), the games have been tight with three ending with one-goal margins and four being by two goals.
Colorado has notched the second-most goals in the NLL with 51, just two behind Halifax. In addition to Lee’s early-season numbers, the Mammoth’s Jacob Ruest has posted 11 goals, including five on the power play, and speedy transition Joey Cupido leads the league with a pair of shorthanded goals.
On the flip side, the Rush have used defense to get to their three wins. The Rush have given up only 33 goals on the season, second-fewest in the league overall and tops amongst teams who have played only four games.
Goalie Evan Kirk has racked up 40-plus saves in back-to-back wins over New York and San Diego, and he sits second in the league in both goals-against average (8.20) and save-percentage (.831).
“He’s given us a chance to win every night,” said Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan. “He’s been really focused and he’s been a big part of us having a 3-1 record. “It makes a big difference being confident in your goaltender. There’s going to be mistakes. Every game, there’s a few breakdowns and there are a lot of good players in this league. But when our defence has been beat, he’s been there to make the saves and that gives your whole team a lot of confidence.”
Kirk has received a good bit of help as well from a Rush defensive unit that has returned to the shut-down group it was during the team’s run of three NLL championships in five years. Ryan Dilks, who was the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, is tied for the league-league in caused turnovers (10), while four-time Defensive Player of the Year Kyle Rubisch is among the league-leaders in caused turnovers and loose balls.
The West Division rivals will actually wrap up their season-series on February 8th when they meet again in Saskatoon.