It was former Rush star Mark Matthews who scored the game winner for the visiting Toronto Rock in a 12-11 National Lacrosse League victory Saturday night, abruptly ending the Rush season.

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Rock 12, Rush 11

In the end, the Saskatchewan Rush’s playoff hopes came up just a couple of goals and one win short.

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And, to rub salt in the wounds, a former Rush player ended those playoff hopes.

It was former Rush star Mark Matthews who scored the game winner for the visiting Toronto Rock in a 12-11 National Lacrosse League victory Saturday night, abruptly ending the Rush season.

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A win and Saskatchewan would be heading to the playoffs as all the other stars had aligned in the Rush’s favour. The New York Riptide and Vancouver Warriors both lost their final game, and Panther City would lose its final game, as well.

Instead, the Rush was left on the outside looking in after finishing the season with an 8-and-10 record.

“With Mark (Matthews) closing it out and getting the winner is tough — it’s right in our face,” admitted Rush captain Ryan Keenan, who had a goal and four assists in Saturday’s loss.

“It sucks. One goal away from having a chance to go to overtime and play on. We knew at half-time  it was ‘we win, we’re in.’”

Lose, however, and they’re out.

The Riptide, and not the Rush, will now move on to the post-season.

Mike Triolo, with a hat-trick, paced the Rush attack Saturday. It was also Triolo who scored the game-tying goal in the fourth quarter before Matthews notched the winner.

Robert Church and Nathaniel Kozevnikov each tallied twice for Saskatchewan, which led 3-2 after the opening quarter but trailed 7-6 at the half and 11-10 after three quarters.

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Clark Walter, Jake Boudreau and Jerrett Smith added singles for the Rush.

Shots on goal were 50-50 apiece.

Frank Scigliano made 38 saves for the Rush. Nick Rose stopped 39 shots for the Rock, which finished the regular season atop the NLL standings with a 15-3 record.

Matthews finished the game with three goals and four assists for a seven-point game against his former Rush team.

Tom Schreiber led all scorers with three goals and five assists for eight points to lead Toronto. Josh Dawlick, with a pair of goals, Corey Small, Justin Martin, Dan Craig and former Rush forward Dan Lintner also scored for the Rock.

After a slow start to the season, Saskatchewan got stronger as the season progressed and really started to heat up in the final weeks.

“Guys switched gears and didn’t play tentative any more,” said Keenan. “We realized we had to play desperate to win. Everyone just gave it their all and showed what they can do as a group. Again, it’s tough it took us so long but you see the growth. Guys were playing with more confidence and I think that’s what it comes down to and learning what it takes to win in this league because no game is easy and we obviously dropped some ones that we shouldn’t have and you look back and it sucks at the end of the year when you needed one more to get in.”

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The Rush racked up wins over the Philadelphia Wings, Calgary Roughnecks and second-place San Diego Seals, taking three of its previous four games, before falling to the Rock by just one goal.

“It hurts that we’re playing the No. 1 team in the league and we’re right there with them,” lamented Keenan. “Last week, we took down the No. 2 team in the league. So that stings.

“It’s tough because we realized just how good we are and it took us a while. It’s too bad it took us that long to learn how to win. We’ve got a young team and we learned a lot from this.

“I think there’s going to be everyone looking back and thinking about those ones we let slip and should have won.”

The Rush brass made a number of bold moves over the off-season going into this season by continuing its rebuilding phase and going much younger. One of those moves was trading the NLL all-time great Matthews to Toronto for forward Zach Manns, defender Adam Jay and a first-round draft pick.

The off-season roster juggling left the Rush as one of the youngest teams in the NLL.

“These guys are devastated,” said Keenan.  “A lot of young guys in that room that want to win really bad but it’s been a lot of fun. We all learned a lot and the beauty of it is that pretty much everyone here is expected to be back. But we learn from the season and how much we grew and just keep growing in the off-season and we’ll be right back. This is the most excited I’ve been and the guys are for next season because of what we built this season.”

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