The Colorado Mammoth (6-8) earned their fourth victory in their last five games and snapped the five-game win streak of the Edmonton Rush (8-6) with a 9-7 road win at Rexall Place on Saturday night.
Mammoth goalie Tye Belanger, who has taken over the goaltending reins since coming onto the active roster in late February, served up his best outing of the season in a must-win game. Belanger finished with 48 saves, including 16 in the third quarter, giving the team their fourth win in their last five games.
With the win, Colorado (6-8) moved to within two games of West Division leaders Edmonton and Calgary (8-6). Meanwhile, the loss prevented the Rush from clinching a home playoff date for the first time in franchise history. While the Rush dominated on the road this season sporting a stellar 7-1 record, Edmonton continues to struggle on the Crystal Glass Field at Rexall Place, falling to 1-5 at home.
“I got my first win in Buffalo (12-6 on March 9) and the whole morale of the team just flipped,” said Belanger. “The whole team is 100 percent behind me and the defense in front of me is making things easy.”
Against the Rush, Belanger got off to a fast and impressive start, totaling 25 saves in the opening half and holding the potent Rush offense to just three goals – two of which were power-play markers by Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight.
“I got to be involved right off the hop. It was easy to get comfortable, I kept being able to see the ball, and I made some critical saves when the defense needed me,” added Belanger.
The netminder’s performance was duly singled out as a key to the victory.
“We’re getting goaltending now and we’re a different team. I’m pretty impressed with the way Tye played,” noted Colorado head coach Bob Hamley.
While Belanger was turning aside shot after shot in the third quarter, the Mammoth built up a lead they would never relinquish. Goals by Mat MacLeod, Joey Cupido, and Casey Powell, with his second of the night, pushed the Mammoth to a 7-3 cushion.
The Rush finally ended the Colorado run on a two-man advantage. Knight popped his second of the game and Ryan Ward counted another on the power play as the Rush closed the gap to 7-5. Edmonton inched closer midway through the fourth when Chris Corbeil, the NLL leader in goals by a defender, set a new franchise single-season record with his fourth shorthanded goal of the year.
After an exchange of goals, the Rush had one final attempt to force overtime, but Ward’s shot clanged off the crossbar with 23 seconds remaining in regulation time. John Grant Jr. iced the Mammoth win nine seconds left.
“It would be great to get a home playoff game, but it’s so tight and there’s so much parity in the league that when you don’t give your best effort you’re not going to win,” said Ward, the Rush’s leading scorer who was held to just one goal on the night.