The Calgary Roughnecks host the Washington Stealth for their West Division Final playoff game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 6:30pm ET with the winner advancing to the 2013 NLL Championship Game. (Photo: Brad Watson)
The top-seeded Calgary Roughnecks host the second seed Washington Stealth at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET for their West Division Final playoff matchup with the winner advancing to host the 2013 NLL Championship Game next weekend. Watch the games live exclusively on CBS Sports Network.
The Roughnecks advanced past their first-round West Division Semifinal matchup against the visiting Colorado Mammoth last weekend by dominating the third quarter after the game was tied 7-7 at halftime.
“Everyone talks about momentum swings in this league,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “It’s so big and once we grabbed that momentum, we were able to maintain it and we just kind of carried it through from there. I think the composure part of that third quarter was big for us.”
Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider, who led the NLL in loose balls and faceoffs won, dismissed the idea that they were “relieved” to be past the first round that had plagued them in previous years.
“For us, it was a matter of putting together a complete game,” Snider said. “I think we knew we were capable of getting into this position. Colorado is a group that has put a lot of pressure on teams offensively and defensively and for us it was just a matter of growing to the point where we grew into the opportunity to be in this West Final. I think that’s kind of been our mentality all year long.”
Looking forward to this weekend, Snider added that it would not be an easy feat to gain the win and have a shot at winning the Champion’s Cup on home field again after doing so in 2009.
“Watching the game film from their game last weekend, [Washington] played Edmonton very hard and we don’t expect anything less from them this weekend,” he said. “They’re going to come out and they are going give us all they’ve got and use all of their offensive and defensive weapons. They’ve got great goaltending and an awesome transition game. We are going to have our hands definitely full come Saturday.”
Malawsky agreed that transition game would a main focus for the game.
“We’re really going to have to watch the transition game, [the Roughnecks] feed a lot of momentum off of that and they create a lot of off that, so hopefully we will be able to control that,” he said.
As for the other keys to the game, Malawsky reiterated the same things that he has preached all year long.
“The goaltending and special teams have got to be real big, but from our perspective, it will be discipline,” he added. “We have been very good lately about staying out of the penalty box and we will continue to be disciplined and try to control the things we can control and not focus on the things that we can’t.”
Snider, who led the NLL with 69 penalty minutes during the regular season, agreed that these were the best policies to play by.
“The only thing that we can control is our effort and the execution of our game plan,” Snider said. “Other than that, the chips are going to fall where they may and we are committed to that.”
The Stealth are coming off an incredible come-from-behind victory over the Edmonton Rush in the West Division Semifinal where they trailed 6-0 to start the game before coming back and holding on the dramatic final seconds for the 12-11 home win.
“Things happen over the course of a game and you try your best to play at your peak for the whole 60 minutes,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “Sometimes things aren’t going your way and momentum isn’t going your way and our last game is evidence of that.”
The trip to the Division Final marks the Stealth’s third appearance in the last four years and sets up a rematch of the 2011 West Division Final when Washington handed the Roughnecks a 10-8 loss in Calgary to book their second-straight trip to the title game.
Trailing by a score of 7-2 at halftime last Saturday in Everett, things looked bleak for the Stealth but an inspiring team effort brought Washington back, as they outscored the Rush 10-4 in the second half, including a seven-goal explosion in the third quarter.
“We had a large task ahead of us and we knew we only had 30 minutes to get it done,” Hall said. “It was one of those ‘do-or-die’ sort of things.”
The charge was led offensively by Rhys Duch who scored three goals in the third quarter alone to spark the comeback as he finished the game with six points (4+2). It was the third four-goal effort in as many weeks for the NLL’s leading goal scorer during the regular season.
“Duch got us a couple of big goals early in the second half and we got the momentum swing we needed and it just kept going,” Hall said.
The other key was the inspiring play by goaltender Tyler Richards, who after being relieved briefly by backup Matt Roik, returned focused and was nearly unbeatable in the fourth quarter while surrendering only one goal. On top of his defensive performance between the pipes, Richards also registered three assists on the night, including two length of the field passes that directly led to goals.
This weekend, the Stealth will be looking to get off to a better start to not fall behind a Roughnecks offense that led the league in scoring during the regular season by scoring almost 14 goals a game, led by 2013 NLL scoring champ Shawn Evans who posted 112 points (32+80).
“We just have to go out and play between the lines and focus on who’s in our dressing room and who’s playing well for a full 60 minutes,” said Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen. “If we get down 7-2 to this team, we are going to have our hands full again and we just can’t be doing that.”
Historically, this will be the fourth time these teams have met in the postseason, with Calgary leading the all-time playoff series 2-1.
The Stealth won the regular season series against the Roughnecks 2-1 this season with all three games being decided by three goals or fewer and discipline being the key in every matchup. In two of their three meetings this year, the netminder Richards has taken a major penalty and had to serve the five minutes in the box while his backup came in cold and got shelled both times, one of which cost them a win.
The winner of this weekend’s game will host the winner of the East Division Final and will have history on their side as the Champion’s Cup has been won by the home team in each of the last five seasons. The Roughnecks won the Champion’s Cup in 2009 before the Stealth also won it at home in 2010.
“We seem to be in the right place right now and are relatively injury-free so we’re in the place we want to be for the Division Final,” Hall said.
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