A Champions Cup birth is on the line tonight in the Battle of Alberta at Rexall Place
By Rush beat writer Scott Zerr & Roughnecks beat writer Kassidy Collins for NLL.com
The Edmonton Rush host the Calgary Roughnecks at Rexall Place for Game Two of the NLL West Division Finals on Friday at 10 p.m. ET. Watch the decisive Battle of Alberta game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
The Rush aren't getting wrapped up in what did or didn't happen in Game One of the West Finals.
They are focused on Game Two - winning it on their home turf at Rexall Place - and forcing a 10-minute mini-game to determine who advances to the Champion's Cup Finals. Many observers feel the Rush were short-changed to some degree in Game One at the Saddledome, but the Roughnecks capitalized on their chances to win 12-11 in overtime.
An illegal substitution call in the final minute of regulation against the Rush afforded the Roughnecks a penalty shot which they scored on. Not only was the call dubious, it appeared as though Calgary scorer Jeff Shattler had committed a crease violation while scoring yet there was no video review at the referee's discretion. In overtime, Edmonton's Mark Matthews had a goal waved off due to a crease violation which was the right call. The Roughnecks promptly answered the close call with Shattler's game winner.
It was a frustrating night, but one the Rush have to put out of their minds in order to equal the series on Friday night and force a deciding bonus clash for the division crown.
"At the time we questioned those calls but as in all circumstances like that you have to move on and doing things better as group to avoid being in those situations," said Rush assistant coach Jeff McComb. "There isn't one call that can change the outcome of a game. We have to be ready to play Game Two. We have be prepared to play better than we did last week."
Earlier in the week on TSN 1260 Radio, Rush head coach Derek Keenan surmised that his team actually played quite well despite the loss and that were few areas that needed to be shored up in time for Game Two. Holding Calgary's high-octane offense to 11 goals was a reasonable job as was scoring 11 in regulation against a solid defense.
So without much to fix, the Rush will tidy up a few things like making sure line changes are done to a 'T' in the dying moments of a game.
"It was a tough game but I thought we played pretty well," said Rush defenseman Brett Mydske. "We're fortunate that we are the higher seed because if you're going to be in a do-or-die game, you definitely want it in front of your home crowd."
The Roughnecks accomplished something last weekend that seemed against the odds in that they beat the NLL's top-seeded team in the Rush.
“It was a pretty intense run late in the game,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “We were fortunate enough to get a break in the game to get that penalty shot and 'Dicker' had a good finish, next thing you know you’re going to overtime. I think we got a fortuitous bounce off the backboards and Shattler made a great individual athletic play. We're very fortunate and realize we have to be a lot better this week if we want the same result.”
The Rush were charged with a two-many-men penalty in the final two minutes of the game, which automatically results in a penalty shot. Curtis ‘Superman’ Dickson was chosen to take the shot for Riggers and he made no mistake, tying the game and sending it to overtime. Not even a minute into the extra frame, Jeff Shattler ended it with a mid-flight shot beating Rush goaltender Aaron Bold.
“It was exciting for our home fans, we were excited the crowd was into it,” said Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride. “I think we did a really good job of staying composed, being in the moment and executing down the stretch when we needed.”
And Malawsky couldn’t agree more with his captain.
“I think it just shows the resiliency and resolve of our group,” he said. “When the game is on the line, our guys don’t seem to panic… that’s just testament to our veteran leadership group and then pushing it down to our rookies. Everybody understands we gotta have our composure especially at this time in the season.”
The win gives the Roughnecks a 1-0 series lead heading into Saturday at Rexall Place. The Rush will try to even the series, sending it to a 10-minute mini-game to decide who will move on to play for the Champion's Cup against either the Buffalo Bandits or the Rochester Knighthawks.
“We're not focused on the 10-minute mini-game,” said McBride. “Our goal and focus is on the first game. If it comes down to that point, then we will worry about it then, but our focus is on the first game and that’s where all our attention is.”
Even know the Rush lost, it was a battle until the final buzzer and Malawsky says he knows his team has to sharpen a few dull spots in their game before Friday.
“Saturday night, the time of possession was heavily weighted in Edmonton’s favor,” he said. “That’s something we’re going to have to revisit because if they have the ball 3-to-1 then we’re playing with fire.”
Earlier this season, the Rush dominated Calgary, winning the season series 3-1. But as of late, the Roughnecks have rallied as a team and have won the past two meeting, both in overtime.
“Early in the season we weren’t quite the group we are now,” said Malawsky. “We went through a lot of adversity throughout the season. We were in a lot of tight games, we lost a couple overtime games and we won a couple, so all that stuff is like equity in the bank. It just makes you stronger, better and believing. With that belief comes confidence and parlays into trust with the guys, and I think the guys really really trust each other at this point and we’re a confident group.“
The Riggers had to play the last game against the Rush without the confidence they’ve had in the faceoff area all season long as the NLL's reigning faceoff champ Geoff Snider has been sidelined due to a lower body injury. Snider is still questionable for Friday's game and the Roughnecks have not released anything saying he has been cleared to play as of yet.
Malawsky knows that the faceoff area is just a small part of what the Rush are capable of dominating, whether it be at home or on the road.
“There the top team in the NLL for a reason, they play great every game,” he said. “They play sixty minutes every game, they play hard every game. Their defense and offense is exceptional, they got a top-notch goaltender and they’re a very well prepared team. If you think they’re weaker on the road or they’re better at home, then you've got your head in the clouds because that is a world-class lacrosse club. And they’re going to bring it no matter where they are.”
Malawsky also added he doesn’t care too much for Game Two potentially going to a mini-game.
“Our focus is 100% on that first game and we don’t even want to look at that as a fallback or anything like that," he said. "We’re coming out and we're going hard for sixty, and we wanna earn it in true time.”