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Stories/Op-Ed

Within Reach: Rush Eye The Cup, Rock Try To Tie It Up

The Edmonton Rush are within reach of the team’s first-ever title and hope to win it on home floor when they host the Toronto Rock at Rexall Place for Game 2 of the NLL Champion’s Cup Finals on Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET. Watch live on TSN1, TSN4, TSN GO (Canada) and ESPN3 (U.S.) as the Rush look to sweep the series while the Rock try to force a potential Game 3 back in Toronto next weekend. The game also airs live on Altitude, CSN California, TWCS KC and on delay on MSG+ (starting at 10 p.m. ET). Fans outside North America can click here to watch live.

In Game 1, the Rush enforced its will upon the Rock. After Toronto opened the scoring with two goals, Edmonton answered back with six in a row. Toronto scored twice more to pull closer, but Edmonton potted three more before halftime, making it 9-3 at the break. The Rush didn’t take their foot off of the gas, and built upon that lead in the second half, ultimately taking away a 15-9 win.

15 goals tied the highest amount the Rock have given up this season, with Edmonton keeping them under 10 goals scored for only the fourth time this season, including a game between the teams earlier this season.

It was the likely suspects who contributed with Mark Matthews (3+3), Robert Church (3+3), and Ben McIntosh (2+4) putting up six points each. They also got three goals from the back end, one from Adrian Sorichetti, and two from Jeremy Thompson. Aaron Bold was also outstanding, shutting down Toronto with a .813 SV%.

Now in Game 2, the recipe for success is there, now it is the time to make plays.

“At this stage of the season, there’s not a lot of secrets in our league,” said Edmonton Rush Head Coach and GM Derek Keenan. “The game plan, and the scouting, it is what it is, it comes down to players making plays. We know we have a group that’s capable, and we know they have a group that’s capable of making plays.”

Though the Rush are just one win away from lifting the Champion’s Cup, they aren’t looking at this game any differently than any other they played this year.

“We’re focused on the process, not the end result,” said Keenan.

Though they has success last week, there is no doubt that the Rock will come out hard. Last week’s result, though positive, can’t affect the team’s attitude going into Game 2.

“We’ve tried to look at this season one game at a time the whole way through,” said Rush forward Zack Greer. “So that’s what we’re going to do, not look at what happened last week by any means.”

There’s always a lot of talk around this time of year about the pressure of playing in these big games. According to Greer, the pressure is there, but only off the floor. On the floor, the rest of the world is shut out.

“With the extra media attention that the league is receiving over the past couple of years, some of that stuff certainly does build up a bit more than it has in the past,” said Greer. “It’s important that we kind of put that aside and make sure we’re not paying attention to that. We’re worried about what we do on the floor. That’s the fun part, when you get out there and you’re playing, and the rest of the stuff doesn’t really matter at that point.”

For the Rock, the team finds itself with their backs against the wall for the second time during the playoffs, and it’s going to take yet another inspiring bounce-back effort to preserve their playoff lives. Unlike the East Finals against Rochester, the Rock will have to win Game 2 on the road, Rexall Place specifically, a spot where the Rush are 7-3 this year.

“Very different on the road versus being at home, but with our backs against the wall, there’s no room for error – just like [the previous Game 2], It’s time for our best effort,” said Rock owner and general manager Jamie Dawick. “Look for a bounce back performance this weekend.”

Two weeks ago, Toronto defeated the three-time defending champion Knighthawks twice in one evening with a total goal differential of 19-10. The rebound effort came a week after dropping Game 1 by a score of 10-9, adding to the team’s perfect 5-0 record after a defeat this season.

“We only lost four games in the regular season and none of them came back-to-back,” said Dawick. “We got a resilient group here, they show up and battled every game. It’s nice to know that. But it all means nothing on Friday night. Stats are made to be broken, we need to bring our best effort.”

The Rock were outshot, out-chanced, out loose-balled and just plain outworked last week. It was no surprise to Rock head coach John Lovell that the effort resulted in a loss. Immediately following the game, Lovell directly attributed his teams’ loss to poor play on both ends of the floor. What’s more is the fact that rock solid Brandon Miller had arguably his worst performance of the season in goal. The Toronto starter, yanked on two different occasions, put up a playoff low .657 save percentage over 38:20 of play.

“The game was a bit of let down after a big series win over Rochester and I thought we got outplayed last weekend,” said Dawick, echoing Lovell’s sentiments. “We know [who the Rush] are, they’re a great team. We got to play our best to beat them and that didn’t happen last week.”

“I think we weren’t at our best last weekend,” said Rock veteran and former captain Colin Doyle. “We had it handed to us by a very good team, but I don’t that was an case of us not giving our opponent enough respect, I just think it was one of those nights.”

“Our energy and compete level need to be higher because Edmonton showed us that’s where those levels need to be. Lesson learned, we had a good practice this week. We’re going to get back to what we do well,” Doyle added.

Game 1 included, the Rush have now scored 41 total goals for an average of nearly 14 goals per game against Toronto. The 15 tallies last week came as result of strong transitional play and an efficient back-door game. Game 1’s nail in the coffin was a goal from Zack Greer, who while cutting in the slot, took an excellent feed from Mark Mathews before shovelling it in the net. The tally put Edmonton ahead 12-8 with 14:15 to go.

“We know who Edmonton is, they’re a great defensive team with great goaltending, and offensively they’re an unselfish group,” said Dawick. It comes down to the players on the floor, winning those little battles.”

The Rock put up 48 shots in the loss, but many of them came from the outside. The Rush’s pressure-style defense had Rock sharp shooters Brett Hickey and Stephan Leblanc virtually silent. Only a goal and three assists were recorded between the teams’ two top snipers.

By Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) and Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Dale MacMillan.

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