CALGARY, AB — The message was clear when Calgary Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky was asked what the key component is to coming out on top over the Edmonton Rush in Saturday’s West Division playoff showdown — discipline.
The Riggers bench boss didn’t mince words in delivering said message.
“From a mental standpoint, Edmonton does a real good job of initiating stuff and we always react to them,” Malawsky said. “Time and time again they come and they poke and poke and poke, knowing sooner or later that our guys are going to react.”
The Roughnecks, who successfully killed 19 of the 26 power plays the Rush had against them this season, know that a game of this magnitude could — and likely will — come down to special teams.
“I think our guys have to identify that there is nothing they can say or do that should make you react in a playoff game with the stakes that high,” Malawsky continued. “That’s going to be a big part of it for us from a mental standpoint — just not get into that trap where they want us to react and make bad decisions and have to sit in the penalty box.
“Everyone knows come playoff time its goaltending and special teams will be big, that’s going to be a big part of it for us.”
Calgary was at the top of the league in every special teams category this season. The Riggers enjoyed the league’s top power play, successful 55 percent of the time while their penalty kill was also tops at 67 percent.
Edmonton head coach Derek Keenan knows lack of discipline can be a dangerous path he’s not interested in exploring Saturday.
“If you waiver or lose your composure against Calgary — they’re so good at jumping on you quickly and scoring in bunches — you can get yourself into trouble,” Keenan said. “Discipline, in all areas, meaning our defensive scheme and transition game and offence is what’s going to be key. Staying out of the penalty box will be important as well. We’ve got to play disciplined lacrosse in all areas and we’ll see what happens from there.””
The Roughnecks power play was especially lethal at home this season, converting 23 times for a staggering success rate of over 60 percent.
“Discipline is going to be a huge factor in these games,” Rush defender Kyle Rubisch said. “Checking your emotions, especially when you’re on the road at the Saddledome — and it’s going crazy — you need to keep Calgary away from the power play, they have so many offensive weapons that can hurt you, it can be a huge changing part in the game.”
Perhaps even more impressive than Calgary’s prowess with the man advantage is their penalty killing.
In addition to their league-leading penalty kill percentage, the Riggers are also a threat when they are a man down. Their 13 shorthanded markers were also at the top of the league.
“I know both teams will say that we think our power play is the best in the league,” said Andrew McBride, who has played in all of Calgary’s 19 playoff games since 2003. “We’re defending those guys in practice almost every day, they’re almost impossible to defend — our short-man has done the best job in the 12 years I’ve been here with the Roughnecks.
“The top guys have done a phenomenal job and with [Mike Poulin] seeing the ball the way he has — it’s been a really, really positive step for us and a really positive thing to be able to kill those penalties off. ”
Despite the shorthanded success, McBride knows the Riggers need to stay out of the box to have success against the Rush.
“Being physical and being smart is about knowing times when to take penalties and when to just play hard-nosed lacrosse,” he explained. “I think both teams understand the difference between those two lines.
“Now is not the time to be going out there and running around and taking stupid penalties because in the NLL if you take penalties you’re going to get scored on. Being mentally tough is being able to take that punch in the face, being able to run to the bench and being able to be disciplined in those areas.
“If you put [a team like] Edmonton on the power play six or seven times you’re not going to win many games in the NLL.”