The National Lacrosse League's West Division Final came down to a bonus mini-game and the Calgary Roughnecks survived to make their way to the Champion's Cup Finals.
With the two-game series tied at one win apiece, the Roughnecks topped the Edmonton Rush 2-1 in the mini-game to take the West banner before a season-high crowd of 9,120 at Rexall Place in Edmonton. The Roughnecks, who have captured the Champion's Cup in 2004 and 2009, will meet the winner of the East Division Final between two-time defending league champion Rochester and Buffalo.
Calgary's Shawn Evans scored twice in the opening three minutes of the mini-game, first sending a long-range bounce shot past Rush goalie Aaron Bold, and then outmuscling defender John Lafontaine towards the net and beating the netminder. The Rush finally got some offense in the mini-game as Zack Greer gunned a shot behind Calgary's Mike Poulin with 1:39 to go, but it wasn't enough. Poulin managed nine saves in the clinching bonus period to preserve the stunning victory.
"I'm just really proud of the way we responded," said Poulin. "We let the first half (of Game 2) slip away from us but we showed a lot character in the last 40 minutes to win the West. "We showed a lot of character to get back to the game plan. Hats off to the Rush, they have to be very proud of their effort but we'll take it."
Edmonton had a glorious chance to tie the mini-game in the dying seconds but Poulin, who was yanked for a short stint earlier in the night, made a tremendous stop on the Rush's Robert Church.
"That play was exactly what we wanted but Poulin made the save," said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. "I thought we played very well in the 10-minute game and we had ample chances to win it. It's just very tough to swallow right now."
The Rush, who cruised through the regular season with a league-best 16-2 record, set the stage for the deciding 10-minute tiebreaker by outlasting the Roughnecks 15-13 in Game 2 of West Final. Edmonton led by as many as nine early in the second quarter before Calgary turned up the pressure and dominated the second half.
Evans, who has consistently been a thorn in the side of the Rush for his scoring prowess and hard-edged play, pinned the win on the Roughnecks' team togetherness.
"We never quit. We stuck together and now we're headed to the championship. It feels good," said Evans, who finished second in league scoring during the regular season with 105 points. "We're going to rest up and enjoy the moment. It's been tight games all year (against Buffalo and Rochester) and it's going to be a good series no matter who we play."
Game 2 of the series opened with the Rush torching the Roughnecks with a offensive outburst. Leading 3-2, the Rush then scored five goals in only 90 seconds, setting an NLL record for the fastest five goals in the league's 28-year history.
Mark Matthews, with his second goal of the opening quarter, began the incredible stretch as he powered through Calgary defender Karsen Leung and beat Poulin as he was being dragged to the turf. Just 26 seconds later, Ryan Dilks led a 3-0 breakout for Edmonton and buried his shot.
Jarrett Davis fired home a shot 22 seconds after that, and John Lafontaine made it 7-2 just 36 later when he scored on the second breakaway pass of the quarter from Bold. And only six seconds after that goal, Zack Greer made it 8-2 with his second of the opening frame- a goal which also tied the Edmonton team record for most goals in a single quarter of play.
Curtis Knight scored twice in the second quarter, including a shorthanded marker, as the Rush took a 12-6 lead into halftime.
The Roughnecks climbed back into the game during a penalty-filled third quarter as Dane Dobbie and Evans both completed hat tricks to make it 14-10.
Calgary continued their comeback early in the fourth as Scott Ranger scooped up a rebound and beat Bold, and just 23 seconds later Jon Harnett whipped a shot behind the Rush netminder to make it 14-12. Edmonton's offense was sputtering and Calgary's offense kept coming. With just over five minutes left, Ranger was left all alone at the edge of the crease and he beat Bold high to bring the Roughnecks to within one.
The Rush were under siege in the final two minutes but Bold managed to make two big saves off Dobbie and Jeff Shattler. After a lengthy scrum for a loose ball at the top of the Edmonton crease, Kyle Rubisch was able to clear the ball to Nik Bilic who counted his second of the game into an empty net.
Despite losing Game 2 and being forced into the do-or-die mini-game, the Roughnecks were full of confidence riding the high of their determined comeback bid.
"What else were we going to do? We weren't going to pack it in," added Poulin. "The first half that I and the defensive unit had, we didn't want our year to end like that."
Matthews finished off his hat trick for the Rush with Cory Conway, Chris Corbeil, and Riley Loewen rounded out Edmonton's scoring in regulation.
Daryl Veltman scored twice for Calgary with singles going to Shattler and Curtis Dickson.
THREE STARS (Game Two):
1) Zack Greer
2) Shawn Evans
3) Mark Matthews
MINI-GAME MVP: Shawn Evans