Playing the waiting game is never easy.
It especially becomes a tougher task to relax and wait as you chase a second championship trophy in three years.
That’s the position members of the Saskatchewan Rush find themselves in as they try to stay fresh and prepare during their bye week.
With the National Lacrosse League playoffs getting underway this weekend, the Rush will have to wait until May 13 at 5 p.m. to host the Western Division final at SSaskTelCentre.
Having time off is nothing new for this team.
“We’re kind of used to it this year,” head coach Derek Keenan said of another lull in the schedule. “We had six bye weeks and now we have another one. We finished 14-4 and we had two back-to-backs. There were teams in this league that didn’t have any back-to-backs and only two or three bye weeks.”
Captain Chris Corbeil knows that a bye week can be a curse as much as it can be a blessing.
“We’re happy we’re in the bye, but in this league, you play so infrequently that it has a potential to work against you,” he said. “The last month or so, it feels like we hardly played…. so we need practices like today to keep us in line.”
Saskatchewan will play Calgary after the Roughnecks upset the Colorado Mammoth 15-12 Saturday in Denver.
The Rush were the first team in the 18-game era to go a perfect 10-0 against its own division this season, but now that the playoffs have arrived, winning is a completely different animal.
“We’ve been fortunate to go undefeated against both teams this year,” Keenan said. “Which doesn’t happen very often, so it’s probably going to make it that much more difficult to beat either one of them four times.”
Whether it be by player or team, Saskatchewan led nearly offensive and defensive statistic this season.
They won the goals against title, allowing a mere 10.8 goals per game.
The only leaderboard where a Rush player doesn’t appear is defensive scoring, something the team will look to address if the opportunity arises.
“We’ll do what the game dictates,” Corbeil said. “If it calls for us pushing the ball in transition and getting some looks to create scoring chances, then that’s what we’ll do.”
“We’re a team that’s built around being able to do that if we need to, then being smart enough to slow the game down when we recognize that’s what needs to be done.”
Debut of new playoff format
New to the NLL playoffs is a change in format.
The only playoff series remaining a best-of-three is the NLL Finals. Every round leading up to that will be a one-game do-or-die matchup.
In recent years, the division semifinals were single-elimination, while the division finals operated under a home-and-home series. If teams were tied at one win each, a 10-minute mini-game would take place after the second game.
After being part of a variety of scheduling changes, Keenan doesn’t have any preference for playoff formats.
Sudden death just happens to raise the stakes even higher.
“The sudden death games, they’re a complete crapshoot because all of the teams that are left now are good teams.”
“Hot goaltending is a factor, discipline is a factor.”
Regardless of the format, Corbeil knows it’s high time for his group to step up.
“Playoff lacrosse is a whole different ball game,” Corbeil said of his team’s approach. “In these playoff games, very rarely is it going to be a win of a big margin.”
“You never know which goal is going to be the make-or-break.”