Over the past three seasons, the National Lacrosse League’s Battle of Alberta has been a dramatically one-sided affair.
Kind of like a nuclear superpower taking on cavemen armed with clubs.
But the Edmonton Rush want to turn the Battle around and make it an even fight. They’ve done it twice in the playoffs, dropping the heavily favored Calgary Roughnecks in pair of West Division semifinals, yet the Roughnecks have been handily in control of the regular-season clashes.
The Roughnecks have won nine straight regular-season meetings against the Rush, including last week’s 18-15 victory on Crystal Glass Field at Rexall Place. The Rush have not beaten the Roughnecks in regular-season play since the 2010 campaign, and were swept 4-0 in the season series in both 2011 and 2012.
Down 1-0 in the 2013 season series, the Rush are getting more than a little testy when it comes to the subject of ending their slump against the arch-rival. Everyone on the Rush bench knows it’s long past time to get this job done.
“What it takes is for us to eliminate the errors we make down the stretch, things that lead to transitions and easy goals,” said Rush leading scorer Ryan Ward, who anchored Edmonton’s stunning playoff victory over Calgary last spring.
“And we need to be better on the power play because we let a lot of opportunities go that had we capitalized on those might have been the difference,” added Ward. The Rush went into the game with the NLL’s top-ranked power play, but ended the night a frustrated 1-for-7.
The fact that the Rush eliminated a quick deficit and went on a tear in the first quarter shows that they definitely have the moxie to overcome the Roughnecks. But the briefest of lapses that immediately followed played a huge part in the Rush’s disappointing end result.
“We had the game at 6-3 and we had the opportunity to potentially to take the ball in an odd-man situation but we dropped the ball and it ended up in our net about 20 seconds later,” noted Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan.
“And then (Geoff) Snider gets one off the faceoff to make it 6-5 which we can’t allow and now it’s 6-5 instead of 7-3. Those are the things that you have to clean up. We had some high turnovers that resulted in turnovers and you can’t do that because they have a pretty athletic group.”
The tools are all in place for the Rush to beat the Roughnecks. They’ve done it before, and in frankly more important games when advancing in the Champion’s Cup playoffs is at stake. But the fact is that the Rush can’t keep relying on stunning upsets to move towards the title. Division playoff positioning is key, and the Rush would love nothing more than to get their first-ever home playoff game in franchise history, which makes regular-season victories – and hence the end of their skid against the Roughnecks – that much more important.
“We haven’t had a lot of regular-season success against them and we have to get over that hump and figure out a way to do it,” said Keenan.
“It’s done by taking care of little things, eliminating errors, and we need to execute better. It always seems against these guys that we make mistakes at crucial times and the ball ends up in our net and we have to fix that.”