Calm before storm

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

The Edmonton Rush could not have picked a better scenario for their biggest game of the season to date.

Yesterday the Rush gathered in San Jose waiting for their National Lacrosse League opponents to come home.

The San Jose Stealth were playing in Portland in their first of back-to-back games this weekend.

Today they returned home to host the Rush (5 p.m.) at the HP Pavilion in a game with huge playoff implications.

"This is probably our best scenario as far as coming into a game all year," said Rush forward Jamey Bowen. "Even in our home games, we come in the day before, have a late practice and have to play the next day.

"(Yesterday) we came in early, had a good practice and will sit down to a good team meal for the first time all season. Then we'll get some quality time (today) to prepare for the game."

TWO-GAME WEEKENDS

Tonight is the last time the Rush play just one game in a weekend. From here on in, they'll be playing two games per weekend also.

The Stealth were in Portland to face the LumberJax last night, then flew home for tonight's game.

"I think the advantage for us was getting down here and having an afternoon practice," said Rush head coach and general manager Paul Day.

"But sometimes playing back-to-back is an advantage. Out West it's like a back-to-back every weekend anyway because you practice the night before and then you play, so everybody gets used to it.

"But getting out here early was good planning by us to take advantage of a good night's rest."

Heading into the weekend, both the Rush and Stealth were tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division. With the Stealth playing two games this weekend there'll be no sharing of the spot once the dust settles.

"I think we match up well with San Jose," Day said. "One of the keys for us, with them coming off of back-to-backs, will be that our defence runs the floor. We have to create some transition.

"We did a good job off that against Toronto, creating transition. But definitely our defence has to outscore their defence (tonight)."

Tonight is the second meeting between the teams this season. Three weeks ago the Stealth beat the Rush 11-9 at Rexall Place.

Up front the Stealth are led by Ottawa native Jeff Zywicki, Gary Rosyski of Toronto and Colin Doyle of Kitchener.

The trio have accounted for 139 points in nine games.

Doyle, the 2005 league MVP with the Toronto Rock, was acquired by the Stealth in a blockbuster trade at the beginning of the season.

SETS UP STRETCH DRIVE

"Colin Doyle is starting to play with a lot of confidence, he had 20 shots last week," Day said.

"I think that was the first time this year where he's had 20 shots in a game. He's a great outside shooter.

"And Zywicki might be the best right-hander in this league."

As the first of six road games for the Rush, tonight's encounter will set up their playoff push through the rest of the season.

The two teams meet again in San Jose for the second-last game of the year - incidentally the first of a back-to-back for the Rush.

The following night the Rush fly home to host the Calgary Roughnecks in the last regular-season game of the year.

"This is a huge game, and it's nice for us to get a chance to spend some time together," Bowen said.

"Our team is made up of the guys who have to come in and then us local guys. We don't see each other a lot with the exception of when we're on the floor. To get a chance to have that camaraderie before we play this game is huge."

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WHO TO WATCH

CURTIS PALIDWOR, RUSH

Rush goaltender was outstanding, making 50 saves in a win over the Toronto Rock last week.

CURTIS ZYWICKI, STEALTH

The Ottawa native leads the Stealth with 26 goals in nine games this season.

GAME NOTES

This is the first of six consecutive road games for the Rush and the last time they'll play just one game in a weekend. Tonight's game has huge playoff implications. Both teams head into the weekend with 4-5 records, tied for fourth in the West Division. San Jose, however, plays two games this weekend, travelling to Portland last night to face the LumberJax before returning home to host the Rush today ... Colin Doyle was the big acquisition for the Stealth just prior to the season. The veteran from Kitchener, Ont., was the 2005 league MVP and had 96 points with the Toronto Rock last season. This year Doyle has 12 goals and 33 assists for 45 point in nine games.


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