First on the line this weekend

GERRY MODDEJONGE, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

EDMONTON - First place is theirs to win or lose.

The Edmonton Rush couldn’t ask for better opponents to close out the National Lacrosse League regular season against than the Washington Stealth and the Calgary Roughnecks.

The Rush (9-5) are sandwiched by half a game each between the league-leading Stealth (10-4) and the third-place Roughnecks (8-6) in a tight West Division.

While they will have to wait until the following week for the other two to finish up the schedule, the Rush would position themselves for a first-place finish in not only the west, but possibly overall, with a pair of wins this weekend.

“I don’t know necessarily if they’re feeling pressure in terms of looking ahead to what the results might be, but more just playing the game,” Rush head coach Derek Keenan said of his squad. “I’m sure our guys are all excited about it because it is a huge rivalry.”

The season series against both of the Rush’s opponents this weekend is 1-1, giving whoever wins the upcoming rubber matches a decisive advantage in any possible tie-breaker scenarios. But two losses would negate any chance of Rexall Place hosting a post-season game.

“For us, it would be great to have a home playoff game, but we don’t want the weight of the world on our guys’ shoulders either thinking that they absolutely have to win,” Keenan said. “You don’t want to approach it that way. We’ve already clinched playoffs, which is beyond where this club has ever been, so you look at that as a positive and try to finish as best we can, which we’ve tried to do all along.”

Last week was hardly their best, although the league standings said otherwise heading in. But team records meant nothing as the Rush squandered away their first-place overall tie to the last-place Colorado Mammoth with a 14-10 loss at home.

“I think we have a little bit better in the tank than we showed last weekend, moving ahead,” said Keenan.

It was one of a few seldom hiccups in an otherwise tremendous season that has seen the Rush march towards the top of the league after finishing the 2009 season in the standings basement.

“We’ve tried to move forward this year and forget about the past,” Keenan said. “In the past, the club hasn’t done particularly well against Calgary. This year, we’re 1-1 and we split. This is the decider in the series with a lot on the line.”

That goes, as well, for the Roughnecks, who entered the 2010 season as the defending champions and are still looking to regain their champion form.

“I think there’s good pressure and there’s bad pressure. Good pressure is looking at these kinds of games as an opportunity to deliver in big games,” said Roughnecks head coach Dave Pym. “Big games generate big performances from guys you expect them from. So this game, you’re going to witness anything from virtuoso performances from both teams as easily as a s--t show.

“It’s an experience never to miss in the battle of Alberta. It’s always a treat to be part of it.”

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca


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