Good teams, teams that are experienced at winning when it counts the most, find a way to come out on top of their opposition.
During the regular season, the Rush won three of four games against the Colorado Mammoth but by a margin of victory of just three total goals including one win in overtime. The Mammoth were very nearly able to steal all three of those games thanks to the efforts of goaltender Dillon Ward, who racked up nearly 150 saves in the process.
Things certainly changed come playoff time.
The Rush burned Ward for 10 of their 13 second-half goals – 15 in all – as they pounded Colorado 18-9 in Game 1 of the NLL West Division Final. Back on their home turf at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon this Saturday, the two-time defending league champs are a win away from advancing to the Champion’s Cup Final.
“He’s a heck of a goalie but our guys were just really dialed in,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan.
“I think they were just more patient. They were a lot more poised and weren’t shooting out of a sense of urgency. I think you have to find the right balance between the two and they certainly did.”
No one more so that Adam Jones, who recorded a second-half sock trick (six goals) including a pair of power-play markers and twice notching back-to-back goals. All six of the Rush’s top goal-scorers during the regular season – Jones, Ben McIntosh, Mark Matthews, Robert Church, Curtis Knight and Ryan Keenan – scored at least once in the game.
“I thought in the first and third quarters, Benny Mac (McIntosh) really carried us,” added Keenan. “He’s a heck of a player. And Adam was right on the money. I thought he got a lot of same shots that he got during the season but just wasn’t putting them in. He mixed his shots up well and went to the net hard.”
The shooters deserve a lot of credit for the lopsided result, but their results were often the set up by plays at the other end of the floor. Saskatchewan got 31 saves from reigning Champion’s Cup MVP Aaron Bold and a stoic performance from the defence that went into battle minus their injured captain Chris Corbeil.
“As big of a game as he had, Adam was the first guy to point out that all of our goals were because of how good of a game our defence had,” said Keenan.
“We hadn’t had a real shut-down game all season and that was a shut-down game. We gave up only one goal in the fourth quarter and that was on a penalty shot. We need to continue to play that way.”
Saskatchewan ran roughshod over the Mammoth all over the floor, outscooping them 73-60 on loose balls, going 18-for-31 on faceoffs, and racking up 12 forced turnovers.
“Our defensive unit focuses on our game and the offence does their job, and it all came together,” said Rush defenceman Kyle Rubisch.
The Rush are a win away from advancing but they know it’ll be a tough test facing them as the Mammoth desperately try to keep their quest for the Cup going.
“It seems like it’s been that way most of the season, certainly the last half, as we go up against teams who are fighting to stay alive,” said Keenan. “It’s a quirky series. We got that win in Denver but if we don’t win Game 2, it means nothing, and then you’ve got that 10-minute mini-game and that’s a coin toss.
“We need to be ready but we know that. We’re an experienced team that’s been through that and that’s going to help us get through.”
TOR-RIFIC GAME: It’s unclear yet whether Rush captain Chris Corbeil will be able to draw back into the lineup for Game 2 after missing the series opener due to injury. The Rush were ably covered by Tor Reinholdt, who scored a sensational breakaway goal in the second quarter. It was just Reinholdt’s second game with Saskatchewan since being acquired as a free agent late in the season.
“The goal he scored was a huge one and I thought he played really well,” said Keenan. “I thought he brought a lot of energy. He’s got some speed and some skill and is a really good depth guy to have.”
Reinholdt was taken sixth overall in the 2013 NLL Entry Draft by Calgary, one spot after the Rush selected Robert Church.