After winning Game 1 of the West Finals at home last weekend, the Edmonton Rush will look to reserve their spot in the Champion’s Cup Finals when they visit the Calgary Roughnecks at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET. While Edmonton needs just one win, Calgary can return to the Cup Finals with wins in both Game 2 and what would be the subsequent 10-minute tiebreaker Game 3. Watch the action on TSN 3, TSN 4 & TSN GO (Canada) and on ESPN3 (U.S.) while the game also airs live on MSG, Altitude and Time Warner Cable Sports NY. Fans outside North America can click here to watch live.
When these two teams met in the West Finals last year, it was the Roughnecks who captured the first game at home. While the Rush were decisive winners in Game 2, the Roughnecks pulled through in the 10-minute Game 3, and advanced to the Finals against Rochester. With the winner of Game 1 reversed this time around, the Rush are hoping the outcome of the series can too.
“Hopefully we can go in there and get a win,” said Rush forward Mark Matthews, who led the team with seven points (3+4) in Game 1. “We don’t want to play in that mini-game and obviously anything can happen in that. We need a win in the sixty minutes and we can hopefully stay away from the ten minutes.
“It’s going to be tough to play in there, it always is. Especially now in the playoffs, they’ll have that place rocking.”
With the game tied at 8-8 with under three minutes to go in Game 1, it was Ben McIntosh and Zack Greer who scored crucial goals to give the Rush the win. McIntosh’s goal was his only point of the night, but it was the most important one of his young professional career.
“He’s kind of known for that,” said Edmonton Head Coach and GM Derek Keenan. “He’s a big-game player, he made a great shot. He followed a plan there, he got open, they didn’t give us much there in the fourth, and he found a gap there and made a great shot.”
The game was more characterized by its defense, rather than its offense with both goaltenders having big nights. For Edmonton, holding Calgary’s offense to just eight goals was a great defensive accomplishment. Calgary’s best forwards on the right side of the floor, Dane Dobbie and Jeff Shattler, were held to just three points, all off them coming from Dobbie. On the left side, Shawn Evans and Curtis Dickson combined for four goals.
“We just played our team defense,” Keenan said. “We did what we try to do every week. They obviously have some highly-skilled and talented players on offense on both sides of the floor, so you can’t have the mindset that you’re going to focus on one guy, or two guys. You have to focus on the group, which means you have to play team defense.”
On the other side of the ball, Robert Church will return to the Rush offense after missing the last two games due to injury. Church had 92 points (37+55) in the regular season in 17 games. Jeremy Thompson, who was playing offense in Church’s absence, will return to his normal role, playing defense and transition.
After falling to the Rush 10-8 in Game 1, the Roughnecks find themselves in a familiar situation with another do-or-die game. The team will be looking to fix some mistakes that ultimately cost them the opener when they return to the Saddledome.
“We went through a couple of one-and-done’s, and we’re fortunate enough to have another opportunity to extend this to a mini-game,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “So we’re going to have to be a lot better than we were last week.”
“There are definitely some areas that we need to address. I thought the Rush were more hungry than we were. It showed in the loose ball stats. I thought fundamentally, we continued to turn the ball over more and that’s really uncharacteristic of our group. We’ve been pretty good at protecting the ball, but we gave it away a lot.”
With Edmonton’s high-powered offense, Calgary is focusing on tightening up its defense, but they are feeling prepared for the challenge that awaits them. The Roughnecks have seemed to fare well in must-win games, as they have played many of them long before the playoffs got underway.
“We’re going to have to elevate a little bit more on the backend. Probably a lot more to be honest with you,” Malawsky said. “But I know our guys are ready for that challenge, and we’re focused. There’s a lot of guys that took this weekend real personal, from a personal level that they didn’t pull on the rope.”
“I like our group when our backs are against the wall,” said Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider. “We’ve got a lot of warriors, and a lot of guys that are battle tested…We didn’t play the game that we needed to play to be successful in Game 1. We’ll be ready for Game 2. I like how we respond in these situations so we’ll be prepared.”
After playing away games for more than a month, the Riggers are not forgetting the extra advantage they will have playing at home. The coaching staff hopes that the motivation from the crowd will push the Roughnecks towards a victory.
“I’ve always said that the Calgary fans are very knowledgeable,” Malawsky said. “I really do think it’s the extra guy, they score and it goes dead quiet, and we score and the roof goes off…I think from a mental perspective, it’s an advantage to our players. We expect (the fans) to be a factor and they’ll help us definitely.”
By Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) and Laura Bates (@RoughnecksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Brad Watson.