With a meeting of the top two teams in the West, there will be a playoff-like atmosphere at Northlands when the Edmonton Rush (10-5) take on the Colorado Mammoth (9-7) at 9 p.m. ET. Watch on TSN GO in Canada and NLL LIVE in the U.S. With a win, the Rush can lock up first place in the West Division, which would give them a first-round bye in the playoffs for the second-straight year.
The Rush have won four of its last five against the Mammoth, capturing back to back wins in a home and home back in mid-February. Over the two games, the Rush outscored Colorado 24-14. After splitting a series with the Roughnecks last weekend, Edmonton increased its league-leading goal differential to 56, while the Mammoth sit at -3. The Rush are the only team in the West Division with a positive differential and are only one of just three teams in the whole league with one.
“Going into this weekend, we think we have a bit of momentum,” said Rush GM and head coach Derek Keenan. “And overall, we’ve been playing pretty well this last month.”
The game will be Edmonton’s only of the weekend, but Colorado’s second, as they host the Rochester Knighthawks the night before. One may think the Edmonton has the advantage with rested legs, but that’s not often the case.
“Past history has shown the team who plays the night before quite often plays better,” Keenan said. “We’ll go pretty hard Friday night knowing that Colorado’s in there going hard in their own barn.”
“I think it’s important you try and jump on a team early, with pace.”
With the regular season winding down, we’re looking at a Rush team who is looking at the playoffs as another step in the process of winning a championship.
“The boys have one goal in mind this year,” said Rush captain Chris Corbeil. “We’re not settling for anything short of a championship. These last few games down the stretch are against good teams and we have a chance to work out some of the kinks before we hit playoffs.”
They had the same “championship or bust” attitude last year and are playing with an almost identical roster, so what’s different this year?
“This year, we’ve obviously faced a bit more adversity,” Corbeil said. “This time last year we were 14-0, or just coming fresh off of 14-0, and having four or five losses on the record definitely isn’t a bad thing- it teaches you a lot. We’re a young team, and it’s important for those young guys to learn through losing those games, and going through adversity, and playing in tight ones.”
Corbeil is third in scoring for defenders with 15 points (6+9), and is one of two defenders in the league to score a shorthanded goal.
Coming into tonight, the Mammoth have lost four of its last five matchups with Edmonton. Back in February, the Rush took both games in the teams’ first home-and-home series. The stakes are much higher as the regular season wraps up, with the West Division still up for grabs between the two clubs.
In short, home floor advantage and a first-round bye may not be decided until the clock reads 0:00 by this time next week. The Mammoth did themselves a monumental favor however last night by edging the Rochester Knighthawks at home, 11-10. They now sit a game and a half behind the Rush for the top seed in the West, but also gives the team a big momentum wave rolling into Alberta.
“The whole thing is we’re moving forward in the season is just building and building so we’re just playing our best lacrosse when playoffs hit,” said Mammoth defenseman Cameron Holding after the game Friday night. “We’re going to build on that tomorrow at Edmonton, and in two weeks and we will be in good shape for the playoffs.”
Colorado may rely on goaltending to keep the team at close pace once again. The question remains however if Dillon Ward will start in back-to-back games or if we will see Alex Buque between the pipes. That decision will not be made until closer to game-time most likely.
By Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) & Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Jack Dempsey.