CALGARY, AB — The Calgary Roughnecks – and their fans – can breathe a little easier this weekend.
Thanks to a best-of-three format, no matter the result of Game 1, the Roughnecks will get to play a game the following weekend.
That’s not the way the Riggers are thinking, though.
They’re focused on earning a win over their former provincial rival and giving themselves a good shot when they head to Saskatchewan for Game 2 and if needed, the tie-breaker.
Winning won’t be an easy task.
Calgary hasn’t found the right formula to beat the Saskatchewan Rush this season, losing all four contests against their division opponent this season. Aside from one blowout, the Roughnecks has kept every other game within two goals, showing they can compete with the defending champions.
If you’re willing to give the Riggers a mulligan on that one blowout that saw Zack Greer throw up seven goals, it’s been a very close (yet one-sided) series so far.
To open the year, Calgary took a 5-2 lead into halftime but could not hold on and gave up three late goals, giving the Rush a 10-8 win. In their next match-up in the Rough House, the Necks held another big lead at halftime, but once again let Saskatchewan get back into it. The game would need overtime and Greer would once again be a thorn in the side of the Roughnecks, scoring the OT winner.
In their most recent match-up, the story line was a bit different. This time, the Rush took the lead at halftime and would let the Riggers fight their way back into it. Down one goal, the Roughnecks tried to get the equalizer but defenceman Jeff Cornwall made a nice play to get the ball and bury the empty-netter.
The biggest challenge for the Roughnecks will be finding the back of the net against the stingy Rush defence. Saskatchewan allowed 190 goals through 18 games, the least of any team in the NLL. With a defence led by Chris Corbeil, Kyle Rubisch, and Ryan Dilks, it’s never an easy task to rack up goals.
On the other side of the ball, the Rush are as dangerous as any team in the NLL. With Mark Matthews, Ben McIntosh, and Robert Church, they have firepower on each side of the floor.
The Roughnecks know their defence can handle that challenge.
In the West Division Semi-Final, the Riggers were able to quiet the elite Colorado Mammoth forwards and they will be looking to do the same thing this weekend. Despite allowing Adam Jones to register four goals, they held John Grant Jr. and Callum Crawford – two very skilled shooters – to only three assists apiece.
With two talented defences on either side and two goaltenders playing extremely good lacrosse, the game could come down to which goaltender flinches first.
Aaron Bold finished the season with the best goals against average (10.30), but sat eighth in save percentage (.761%). Meanwhile, Mike Poulin was 4th in GAA (11.46) and 6th in save percentage (.778%).
The Poulin Wall, though, is at his best when the pressure of the playoffs is on. In Game 2 of last year’s West Division Final, Poulin replaced Frankie Scigliano between the pipes and shut the Rush down to help the Roughnecks win the game.
Last weekend against the Mammoth, Poulin was spectacular in helping his team advance. He will be looking to duplicate that performance and give his team the edge in Game 1 this Saturday.
With goaltending and defence being a strength of both teams, the offences will be in for a tough time. However, they could benefit from power plays.
The Rush may not benefit greatly from that as they have the leagues worst power play (47.1%), but the Roughnecks third-ranked power play (52.7%) could reap some benefits. That being said, the Riggers generate five extra penalty minutes on average per game. That’s a significant amount of time with a man advantage that Calgary can ill afford to give to Saskatchewan.
With each team ready to leave it all on the floor, expect the battle of the prairies to begin with a bang this Saturday.