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Finals finale: Roughnecks at Knighthawks for Champion's Cup

05/29/2014, 4:30pm EDT
By Roughnecks beat writer Kassidy Collins & Knighthawks beat writer Jeremy Pike for NLL.com

Roughnecks one win away, Knighthawks need two wins at home tonight

Calgary Roughnecks visit Rochester Knighthawks for Champion's Cup Finals finale on Saturday at 8pm ET. (Photo: Brad Watson)

The Calgary Roughnecks visit the Rochester Knighthawks at Blue Cross Arena for the finale of the 2014 NLL Champion's Cup Finals on Saturday, May 31 at 8 p.m. ET. Watch live on ESPN3 (nll.com/espn) in the United States, TSN GO & TSN2 in Canada, YouTube via The Lacrosse Network outside the U.S. and more.

The Roughnecks look to keep on rolling in the National Lacrosse League playoffs, as they are now only one win away from NLL glory. The Riggers played one of the best games of the season last weekend, winning Game One by a score of 10-7 over the two-time defending champion Knighthawks.

Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky liked what he saw out of his team last weekend when they held the Knighthawks to the fewest amount of goals they have scored in a game all year.

“I thought the boys had good compete level,” Malawsky said. “We battled hard from start to finish and I think we did some real good things out there. They’re a very, very good lacrosse team and they expose us to certain situations, especially offensively, so we’re going to have to be ready to go on Saturday night. We've got a lot of work ahead of us.”

Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride was also a big fan of the way the ‘Necks were able to play such a great defensive game and credited most of their success to his goaltender.

“I thought Mike Poulin was obviously our best player,” he said. “Whenever your goalie is seeing the ball like that, and making big saves to bail you out of situations, I thought he made key saves for us down the stretch and when we needed a save, he was there for us.”

The Riggers will now make their way to Rochester for Game Two and play in front of a hostile crowd at Blue Cross Arena. The Roughnecks had 16,541 fans at the ‘Dome last weekend, and know going into Rochester, the tables will be turned.

“They’re going to have the home cooking and the home crowd on their side,” Malawsky said. “We’re going to have to make a lot of adjustments and it’s not things we haven’t seen throughout the year. Hopefully that experience we gathered on the opposite side of the floor and playing in those hostile environments throughout the season is going to help keep our guys focus and on task with what we need to get done.”

As Malawsky said, his team is no stranger to hostile environments, as the Riggers had to travel to Edmonton in the West Finals in order to put themselves in the position they’re now in. But Rochester is one of the best home teams in the NLL, with only one loss at the BCA all season.

“Obviously, one of the toughest barns to play in in the NLL,” McBride said. “That’s evident by the Rochester Knighthawks' home record (10-1). It’s going to be a really tough test.”

With so much on the line, McBride also knows what it takes to be a champion, as he won an NLL Championship with the Roughnecks in 2004 and again in 2009. He knows the challenges of playing in the big game and knows preparation is a key component to victory.

“We’re going to have to be prepared in a hostile environment,” McBride said. “And be ultra-focused right off the bat to get the job done. We expect nothing but the best from the two-time champs. And champions show their will when they need to, so it’s going to be a big test for us. We’ll be ready.”

With the new playoff format, the ‘Necks are in a similar situation after winning Game One in their past series, but Malawsky has zero intention of there being a mini-game to decide the champion.

“If you walk into that game thinking you've got a buffer, you might as well not even show up and play,” he said. “We take the experience we had against Edmonton and we’re going to use that to our advantage. Take the positives out of the situation we were in before, but there’s zero comfort level. We’re coming in to play 60 minutes of hard lacrosse and we’re playing against a world-class lacrosse club.”

Malawsky knows the Knighthawks will be leaving it all on the floor come Saturday, and expects nothing less from his own players.

“We’re going to need to be at our best,” Malawsky said. “We’ll need to be better than we were the previous Saturday on this coming Saturday. It’s a big mountain to climb and our guys are prepared and confident and excited to play.”

The Knighthawks are not in unfamiliar territory this weekend despite the new playoff rules. Rochester lost Game One of the East Division Finals to the Buffalo Bandits before returning to Blue Cross Arena for Game Two, which they won and then won the ten minute mini-game in sudden death overtime.

However, Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen is not looking at that experience as confidence-boosting necessarily, especially after the Knighthawks' performance last Saturday night.

“I think we're looking at it more as an opportunity,” Hasen said. “We know we've got to come in to our rink and play a heck of a lot better than we did last week. Calgary did a lot of good things. We need to be so much better in order to be able to compete. If we're able to get to that ten minutes, then we'll see and we'll go from there. It's concentrating on that first faceoff, the first five minutes.”

Rochester defenseman Scott Self does see some positives coming out of that mini-game victory over the Bandits, however.

“I think we can take comfort in the fact that we went through this in the Buffalo series,” Self said. “So we have to have some confidence. That being said, we do need to be a lot better than we were Saturday night. We need to have a little bit more energy. They were definitely the better team. We need to make sure we step our compete level up for Saturday if we're going to go to that mini-game.”

The Roughnecks finished the regular season as the highest-scoring team in the NLL, averaging 13.16 goals per game. The Knighthawks' defense and goalie Matt Vinc did a good job holding Calgary to ten goals. However, the Knighthawks' offense that averaged 11.67 goals per game only produced 7 goals.

Obviously in order to force the mini-game and reach the goal of a third-straight Champion's Cup victory, the offense needs to pick it up, but overall the team needs to perform better as units on the field.

“There's quite a few areas,” Hasen said. “We tried to do a lot of good things, as individuals we tried to put our best foot forward. I think we need to be a little bit more team-based. Move the ball a bit better, communicating on the back end a bit better as opposed to have a few guys carry us. We need to work as a entire group of sixteen guys on the floor.”

“It's pretty simple for us,” Hasen continued. “We've just got to make sure we burying our opportunities, because we did have some there. {Roughnecks goalie Mike) Poulin was really big. The other thing is keeping it as simple as possible and just move the ball and move our feet. It's one thing that we've tried to do all year long, and that's what makes us successful.”

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