The Saskatchewan Rush are heading back to the big dance, clinching a spot in this year’s National Lacrosse League (NLL) playoffs by defeating prairie rival Calgary Roughnecks 10-6 at SaskTel Centre Saturday night.
It is the first time in NLL history that a team has qualified for the playoffs in the month of February.
Rather than being excited about heading back to the playoffs, Rush head coach Derek Keenan was more excited about his team’s performance.
“I thought we had a great response to a not very good game last week,” he said. “It was a different kind of game than we’ve seen this year and you got to be able to win games like this.”
The win improves Saskatchewan’s already league-best record to 9-2.
It took a while for the sell out crowd of over 15,000 fans at SaskTel Centre to let their voices be heard.
For much of the first half, it was a struggle for both teams in the attacking zone with defenders playing a very aggressive and physical style, making it nearly impossible to get through the middle of the floor for clean shot attempts.
The second quarter especially saw the Roughnecks bare down in the defensive zone, limiting the Rush offense to just one goal while collecting three of their own and trailing by only a 5-4 score at the break.
The crowd at Sasktel Centre seemed eerily subdued and quiet for what is normally a loud and rocking arena.
This all changed in the second half.
Rush players would score four goals on the power play to go a perfect five for five in the game with the man advantage, sending the fans onto their feet and pounding their chests.
Rush goaltender Evan Kirk would handle his business at his end of the floor, only allowing two goals in the half and making a total of 37 saves to help launch Saskatchewan to a victory.
Kirk, who had a redeeming performance after being pulled last week in the second quarter against the Rochester Knighthawks, said it was a collective effort that led to the win.
“To be honest, I think it was our best game,” he said.
“It’s not indicative for me to play well for the outcome. Forwards have to score goals and defense has to play defense. It’s a whole team effort.”
The Rush have another opportunity to pad their lead in first place when the last-place Vancouver Stealth make another visit to Saskatoon on March 3.