Riding high off of back-to-back wins a week ago, the Philadelphia Wings invited the best road team in the NLL to the Wells Fargo Center. The Saskatchewan Rush were 4-0 on the road this season and the Wings had the opportunity to be the first blemish on that away record. Last night’s game was about seeing if Philadelphia can beat the upper-echelon teams in the NLL consistently. Ironically, “inconsistent” was the word of the night for the Wings. Struggling early, Philadelphia couldn’t catch back up with the Rush.
Philadelphia held a lead until there was 2:04 remaining in the first quarter. From that moment on, the Philadelphia Wings were playing a game of tag. It’s just that the Saskatchewan Rush couldn’t be caught. Zach Higgins faced a lot of high percentage shots from the Rush. Simple face dodges were creating space at the crease for Saskatchewan, who led 4-3 at the end of the first.
Brett Hickey was able to get the Philadelphia Wings on the scoreboard with a powerplay goal. He has been terrific on special teams all season. To this point, Hickey stated, “The way they were sliding, they were sliding away from me. I was able to get my hands free on a couple and put them in the net.” As highlighted in the preview to this game, Hickey didn’t disappoint when the Wings were on the powerplay.
This home game was tough on Zach Higgins, who was still getting his pads on the ball, but just not enough to keep “soft goals” off the scoreboard. When shots are just trickling past the goal line at a rate such as last night for the Saskatchewan Rush, it’s frustrating on a goaltender. Higgins has played like an MVP goaltender all season and rightfully deserves to be in that discussion. Against the Rush, the ball just took unfortunate bounces against the Philadelphia Wings. Saskatchewan extended their lead at the end of the first half, 8-5.
Steph Charbonneau had two back-to-back goals in the second quarter that brought life back into this game for the Philadelphia Wings briefly. He is a premier defenseman on the Wings and proved it with his vision. Charbonneau showed his defensive IQ when he jumped a pass on the Saskatchewan Rush transition and used his speed to score on a breakaway. His effort in the second quarter kept Philadelphia in the game at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, Ryan Keenan joined Ben McIntosh in the hat-trick party. Those two wouldn’t be the only Saskatchewan Rush players to end the third quarter with a hat-trick. Jeff Shattler would be invited to the party at 5:29 remaining. The Rush had a lead as big as five goals, but the Philadelphia Wings found a way to get back within three. Saskatchewan led the Wings into the fourth quarter, 11-8.
In the final frame was similar to cramming the night before an exam for the Philadelphia Wings. The opportunity is there to succeed, the pressure was on to be perfect, but everything unraveled. With 14:04 remaining, Josh Currier cut the Saskatchewan Rush lead to two goals. Brett Hickey had another powerplay goal to add to his line. At the crease, the Wings had a chance to score late in the fourth, but there was no-call for goaltender interference.
To the chagrin of Philadelphia Wings head coach, Paul Day, his challenge on that scoring chance didn’t hold up and the Saskatchewan Rush had an empty-net goal stand with 2:12 remaining. To put the icing on the cake for the Rush, Robert Church iced the Wings with a powerplay goal at 1:29 remaining. On the challenged call, Day explained, “When the net comes off, you actually don’t have to throw it in the net, you have to throw it over the line. It was pretty close to being over the line.” When the clock read 0:00, Saskatchewan remained perfect on the road, 15-10.
These next three games are must-win, bounce back games for the Philadelphia Wings. They travel to Colorado to face the Mammoth who are looking to gain ground in the NLL West Division on the Saskatchewan Rush. A week after the Wings face the Mammoth, Philadelphia has back-to-back NLL East Division games. On March 7th, 2020, the Wings host the New England Black Wolves for not only bragging rights but to keep their spot in the NLL post-season. The day after, Philadelphia travels to face the Georgia Swarm.
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Photo credit: Alex Mcintyre