It was gut-wrenching for a bit, and some nails were certainly being nibbled on, but the Saskatchewan Rush will get a shot at playing for their third NLL Cup as they advanced to the league championship series with a 15-13 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks in the West Division Final.
Saskatchewan’s win, before a raucous crowd at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, came in spite of stellar individual performances by Calgary’s offensive standouts Curtis Dickson (6 goals, 4 assists) and Dane Dobbie (2 goals, 9 assists).
The two-time champion Rush, who had their reign come to an end in last year’s championship series against the Georgia Swarm, will now face the Rochester Knighthawks in the best-of-three NLL Cup Final beginning on Saturday, May 26th in Saskatoon. Rochester eliminated Georgia in the East Division Final this past Saturday night.
“It’s pretty sweet getting back to the Final. It’s what we played for all year,” said the Rush’s Mark Matthews, who finished the night with two goals and five assists.
A three-goal surge by the Roughnecks at the start of the second half tied the game 8-8 and launched a wild finish between the arch-rivals. The Rush were able to hold off the Roughnecks in the late going despite taking a major penalty and two minors in the fourth quarter.
“I thought our effort and compete level were good all night,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “Even when they got three in a row in the third quarter, we came right back with four of our own.”
The Rush regained the lead at 9-8 when Robert Church’s shot caught the crossbar and then the net inside the post. Although the shot was initially waved off, a challenge flag from the Rush bench and subsequent review revealed the ball had gone in. The positive outcome on the review propelled the Rush to three more goals, including Church’s hat-trick marker followed by the hat-trick tally for Ben McIntosh, who put a quick-stick strike home on a power play to make it 12-8. But the Roughnecks closed the third quarter with a goal coming with 0.1 seconds left on the clock as Wes Berg notched his third of the game after a sensational cross-crease backhand pass from Dobbie.
The Rush didn’t let that late Calgary goal turn into any momentum for the visitors, however, as Marty Dinsdale found the net and Mark Matthews added another just 1:01 later as he snared a perfect long-bomb pass from Chris Corbeil and whipped a shot past Calgary goalie Christian Del Bianco.
Calgary showed its moxie getting back into the game on the power play. Saskatchewan’s Adrian Sorichetti was assessed a five-minute major for high-sticking and the Roughnecks made the Rush pay as Dickson and Dobbie both fired shots behind Rush goalie Evan Kirk to make it 14-11. The Rush gave themselves a four-goal lead when defenceman Ryan Dilks forced a turnover and then potted his second of the game on an empty-netter with 3:01 to go, but the Roughnecks refused to go away as Dickson struck for his sixth goal of the night with 2:05 left to make it 15-12.
The Rush were dinged for two penalties on the same possession, sending Jeff Cornwall and Jeremy Thompson to the box and giving the Roughnecks a 5-on-3 advantage. Berg connected for his fourth goal of the game with 1:25 left, but Saskatchewan was able to shut the visitors down the rest of the way.
The Rush are now 8-3 all time in playoff action against the Roughnecks and they have beaten Calgary in three of the last four West Division Finals.
Curtis Knight, Ryan Keenan, Jeff Shattler, and Matt Hossack also scored for the Rush, who got 34 saves for Kirk – his best coming just after Saskatchewan had regained the lead in the third quarter. Kirk robbed Dickson in tight and followed that up by shutting down Mitch Wilde on a transition opportunity.
Holden Cattoni had Calgary’s other two goals. Del Bianco, the 20-year-old netminder playing in just his second playoff game, totaled 46 saves. Two of Del Bianco’s best stops came in the opening quarter as he blocked a pair of breakaway attempts by Jeff Cornwall.