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The First Round of the Postseason is Set! Full Quarterfinal Schedule

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Expect Panther City and Calgary Quarterfinal Duel to be ‘Ace-High’

The latest chapter in the NLL’s rootin’-tootin’ ruckus-raising rivalry takes place as a postseason showdown.

West Conference Cowtown foes the Calgary Roughnecks (13-5 regular season; second in West) and Panther City Lacrosse Club (10-8; third) of Fort Worth, TX square off Saturday night in one-and-done Quarterfinal action on WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome.

It could be a shootout. Or it could be won with a silver bullet. There will be young guns and old hands. There could be more than a few playoff moustaches. And it will be broadcast on both sides of the border, ESPNU in the US and the Game of the Week on TSN in Canada (9:30 pm ET, TSN+/ESPN+).

“Calgary’s a good team and we’re going to have to bring a full 60 minutes to beat them,” says Panther City do-it-all transition player/defenceman and quick-draw faceoff specialist Tyler Burton, who spent the six seasons from 2016-22 with the Roughnecks including their 2019 NLL championship campaign.

“I think we got the guys to do that and it’s going to come from all places on the floor. I think we’re a dangerous team and it’s going to be a battle.”

PCLC is in the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s short, two-year history while this is old hat for Calgary, which has won three NLL Cups (2004, 2009 and the already-mentioned 2019).

“We have a young team but we’ve got guys that have been there before including myself, our captain Matt Hossack, [Connor] Sellars,” Burton says. Hossack won a title in 2018 with Saskatchewan, Sellars in 2017 with Georgia. “We’ve got guys who’ve won at every level. We got a good team.”

Forward Will Malcom (franchise-record 35 goals and 96 points in regular season), rookie Jonathan Donville (90 points) and sophomore Patrick Dodds lead PCLC offensively with secondary scoring from veteran Callum Crawford (20 goals and 54 points in 14 career postseason games), Phil Caputo, rookie Mathieu Gautier and Nathan Grenon.

PCLC’s Josh Medeiros led the league’s transition players in goals with 21. Goalie Nick Damude was an anchor in net, he finished the season with a 10-6 record with a 10.31 goals-against average and .789 save percentage.

The Roughnecks still have 10 players from that 2019 Cup championship squad on their roster including this season’s team-leading scorer and 100-point man Jesse King, transition player Zach Currier (fourth in transition points with 33 and second in both loose balls with 228 and caused turnovers with 43) and goalie Christian Del Bianco, one of the NLL’s best with a 13-5 record, 9.03 GAA and .810 SV%.

“We have a lot of familiar faces from 2019,” says Del Bianco, who was magical in Calgary’s championship run that season with a perfect 4-0 record, 8.71 GAA and .838 SV%. “That was a special team to be a part of, but this year’s team has been the most fun I’ve ever had playing lacrosse with because of how balanced the workload and contribution is between every guy on roster.

“Everyone is 110 percent bought-in and it leaves no doubt that we’re reaching the full potential of this team. Keep doing what we’ve done all season, every game is must win, leave nothing in the tank.”

The Roughnecks set a franchise record this year with 13 regular-season wins and Del Bianco notched a career-high 19 assists, nine more than the next goalie, to help ignite Calgary’s transition game, which is where Saturday’s game could be won or lost.

Also on that 2019 squad were Tyler Pace (career-high 74 points this season), Dan Taylor (43 points), Shane Simpson (first in the league goals by defencemen with 18) and Eli Salama (third in NLL in caused turnovers with 38) as well as Curtis Manning, Mitch Wilde and Reece Callies.

Physical second-year forward Tanner Cook stepped up for the Roughnecks this season with 32 goals, 63 points and a team-high 27 penalty minutes while veteran Jeff Cornwall, a three-time NLL champion with Edmonton in 2015 and Saskatchewan in 2016 and 2018, has solidified the team’s back end and transition.

Calgary was eliminated last year in the Quarterfinals by eventual champion Colorado, providing some extra motivation for this postseason.

“The one-game knockouts are really about who’s best that one night and Colorado was that last year when they knocked us out,” Del Bianco says.

The Roughnecks were 2-0 against PCLC this season, winning easily 12-5 on April 1 at the Saddledome with 11,404 in attendance. Calgary’s 13-12 win at Panther City in the last game of the regular season for both teams on April 21 was more competitive.

“They have some similar characteristics to our roster with the transition game and a balanced attack, so it makes for a great matchup for both teams,” says Del Bianco.

For PCLC, Saturday is a chance for payback.

“The first game obviously really didn’t go our way, but the second game we were in it and we had a chance to tie it up late,” PCLC’s Burton says. “I think we had a really good second game against them and the more you play a team, the more familiar you get with them.

“We just got to go in there and put it all on the floor and put a full 60 minutes together. I don’t think we’ve put a full 60 minutes together yet this year. We haven’t had our best game and I think that’s scary knowing that we are in the postseason and we haven’t had our best game yet.”

PCLC is 1-4 all-time against the Roughnecks, the franchise’s lone 14-11 win coming in their inaugural season in March 2022 at the Saddledome where a large and loud crowd is expected for Saturday’s tilt. Attendance there during 2023 was as big as 17,000-plus.

“It’s going to be loud in there so we got to communicate on the floor and off the floor as much as we can,” says Burton. “We’ve played in buildings before that had big crowds so we know what to expect, it’s not going to be a huge surprise. And we’ll feed off that energy; I like playing in front of crowds and I know my teammates like playing in front of crowds too. Get to them early and then you can take the crowd out of the game.”

Scoring early on Del Bianco will be key for PCLC, Burton says. “He’s one the best goalies in the league for a reason, so we’re going to have to stick to our game plan of what the coaches laid out for us and we saw success in that in the second game [of the season].”

PCLC’s overall game plan for Calgary will be much the same.

“Stick to our systems that we’ve had success at all year,” says Burton. “And put together that full 60 minutes. Can’t have any lapses in the postseason or you’re done.”

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