After a rough outing courtesy of the Calgary Roughnecks a week ago, the Saskatchewan Rush will use their regular-season finale to try to clinch first place in the NLL’s West Division.
A home-turf win over the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday will give the Rush (10-7) the top seed in the West Division and a matchup against the same Mammoth team (6-11), who clinched the fourth and final playoff spot a week ago despite losing to San Diego.
The trends are certainly in Saskatchewan’s favor. Despite the loss last weekend, the Rush remain one of the hottest teams in the league with seven wins in their last 10 games, including a four-game winning streak. The Rush have also won 11 of their last 13 regular-season games against Colorado, including a perfect 6-0 mark in Saskatoon.
In their two head-to-head meetings this season, the Rush have come away with a pair of 9-7 victories. The wins have been hard-earned as the Rush have had a tough time penetrating the Mammoth defense, in particular goaltender Dillon Ward, a long-time nemesis of the Rush, who holds down the fourth-best goals-against average in the NLL at 10.75.
Still, the Rush have some of the premier offensive talents in the NLL in reigning league MVP Mark Matthews, who cracked the 100-point plateau for the fifth straight season, and triggermen Ben McIntosh (41 goals) and Robert Church (24 goals) plus resurgent veteran Jeff Shattler (32 goals, 68 points), who is one away from breaking the club’s single-season record for game-winners at six.
While the Rush are relatively rolling in the right direction heading into the playoffs, the Mammoth are headed in the wrong direction with three straight losses but still are upset-minded. They’ll need a huge performance from Ward and something special out of Rookie of The Year candidate Kyle Killen (28 goals).
This game could be decided early. The Rush are 6-1 when they score first and 8-1 when they lead after the first quarter. The Mammoth have been outscored by their opposition 42-24 in first-quarter play this season. Yet, few teams play the Rush tighter than the Mammoth. Of the Rush’s 11 wins against the Mammoth in the past 13 games, three have been decided by one goal, including one in overtime, and four have been settled by only two goals.