Overtime proved to be heartbreaking for the Saskatchewan Rush.
After getting a terrific goal with 41 seconds left in regulation to force OT, the Rush saw Joey Cupido bury a shot on a breakaway to lift the Colorado Mammoth to an 11-10 victory in the NLL West Division Semifinal on Friday night. The Mammoth’s win moved them into the West Final against either Calgary or San Diego, and also ended the Rush’s reign as NLL champions.
The Rush were in search of their second straight NLL Cup and fourth title in five years, but fell short on a giveaway in the offensive zone which came on the heels of a Mammoth rally that saw the visitors score six times in the fourth quarter to erase Saskatchewan’s 7-4 lead.
As opposed to the regular-season finale between the two teams that saw the Rush take control early and lead 11-1 at halftime, this game was a tightly contested defensive struggle through the opening half. Colorado led 3-2 after the first frame, but the Rush eventually knotted things up 4-4 just before the break on Robert Church’s shorthanded marker.
The third quarter saw the Rush seemingly gain the upper hand as they scored three unanswered goals, kicked off by Ben McIntosh’s sidearm shot that went inside the far post. Curtis Knight then scored his second of the night on a brilliant effort as he snared a loose ball off the side of the Colorado net, raced behind the cage, and slipped a wraparound dunk behind Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward to make it 6-4. Then with 54 seconds left in the quarter, Church counted his second of the night as his quick-stick finish capitalized on a Rush power-play opportunity.
But trailing by three only seemed to spark the Mammoth. Jacob Ruest made it 8-6 and less than two minutes later, Ryan Lee burned past the Rush defence to bring Colorado within one. Three minutes after that, Eli McLaughlin got the Mammoth level and only 17 seconds later, the visitors went ahead 9-8 as Ruest collected his hat-trick tally going airborne and putting a bouncer past Rush goalie Evan Kirk.
McIntosh ended the Mammoth’s four-goal run only to see Colorado retake the lead with 2:56 to go on a slick lunging backhand effort by Lee for his hat-trick tally. The Rush took advantage of a confusing play with just 41.2 seconds left in regulation, though, as McIntosh pulled a loose ball away from Ward at the top of the Mammoth crease and tucked the ball in, forcing overtime with his third of the night.
The Rush nearly had the game won early in overtime while shorthanded but McIntosh laser shot from the slot banged off the post after zipping past Ward.
Second later, Cupido stole a pass deep in his own end, blazed straight down the floor and fired a bouncer in tight past Kirk.
Jeff Shattler (2 goals, 3 assists) and Mark Matthews also scored for the Rush, who got a 31-save effort out of Kirk.
Jeremy Noble and Chris Wardle had the other goal for the Mammoth, while Ward finished with 40 saves.