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Walkthrough For Cup Run: Rush At Mammoth

The 2015 NLL regular season will come to an end this weekend with the Colorado Mammoth (9-8) hosting the Edmonton Rush (12-5) at Pepsi Center for the finale on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. Watch the game on TSN2 & TSN GO in Canada and WatchESPN in the United States.

The Mammoth will await the outcome of the Vancouver Stealth vs. Calgary Roughnecks season finale matchup, as they will face the winner of that game in the first round of the playoffs. The Rush have a first-round bye, and will play the winner of the single-elimination West Division Semifinal game. The Rush can still secure the first overall seed in the playoffs with a win this weekend, combined a Toronto Rock loss and a Rochester Knighthawks win.

“We still have some stakes in this,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “We still have an opportunity to stay at five losses, which is really important going forward depending on what happens in the East. We have stakes here and we want to continue to roll, and also be playing well going into the playoffs with the bye coming.”

“We need to get in and play hard for sixty minutes and get out of there with a win if we can,” he added.

The Rush and Mammoth have played three times this season with Edmonton winning each one. The last game came just two weeks ago when the Mammoth almost came back from a 13-6 deficit going into the third quarter, though they just fell short with the game ending with a 13-12 final.

After Tyler Carlson got his first start, and first win of the season last week against the Minnesota Swarm, his former team, the Rush will go with its best available lineup to gear up for the playoffs and that includes getting Aaron Bold back in net. Bold leads the league in minutes played with 956:54, and is fifth in save percenrage at .780, though that number ranks first in the West Division.

It’s unlikely that Mark Matthews could catch Shawn Evans, who has 123 points (44+79), for the league lead in points with just one game to go, but he may be able to catch Ryan Benesch for the league lead in goals. Benesch has 52 goals in 17 game while Matthews and Colorado’s Adam Jones both have 49.

A great game from Robert Church could see him also break 100 points, something that Mark Matthews did a couple weeks ago. Church needs eight points to become the second player in franchise history to have 100 points in a single season. If Matthews was not on the team, Church would hold the single season franchise points record.

The regular season finale is upon us, and a lot is still on the line for both the Mammoth and Rush when the teams clash in Denver. Saturday’s matchup in the Mile High City could have rippling effects in the weeks to come.

For Edmonton, there is still a chance to secure home-floor advantage throughout the postseason with a win. Colorado arguably has something far more valuable at stake however: momentum.

If Saturday’s game is anything like these two teams’ previous matchup, Pepsi Center could be a roller coaster of emotions. After another third-quarter debacle, the Mammoth to their credit made the fourth quarter a thriller in Alberta, but ultimately found themselves in a hole they just couldn’t climb out of in a 13-12 loss.

With a first-round playoff game looming around the corner, a win (close or not) for the Mammoth could go a long way. The schedule to wrap up the regular season has benefited Colorado as well despite what the records state.

They have faced four teams since late March, all in back-to-back series, and all playoff potential teams. Between Vancouver and Calgary (one of which Colorado will face in the opening postseason round), the Mammoth went 3-1, and 1-1 versus the three-time defending champion Knighthawks. The bizarre schedule however has helped set an important tone in the burgundy locker room.

“We’ve had a tough stretch with who our opponents are,” said Mammoth coach Pat Coyle. “I think we’ve done okay as a team. We may have had some setbacks, but it feels like we’re heading in the right direction…what a better way to prepare for the playoffs than to play against the teams that we’re playing against.”

The game will come down to defense once again, especially in forced turnovers, where the top-10 players in the NLL in that category are split between the two teams. Joey Cupido could also be a key factor in the matchup as he currently boasts 16 goals on the year, the most among league defensemen. Right behind Cupido in that category is Ian Hawksbee, who was activated from the PUP list earlier this week.

Behind the ‘D’ is goalie Dillon Ward, who is expected to start for the Mammoth, who can set a personal best in season wins if the home team proves victorious.

On offense, Adam Jones hopes to keep pace with his numbers from the team’s last game against the Rush, where the stellar shooter registered seven of Colorado’s 12 goals in the losing effort.

By Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) and Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Dale MacMillan.