The Roughnecks defeated the Colorado Mammoth 8-4 Friday night in the West Division final, earning their spot in the NLL Finals, much to the delight of the 8,900 fans in attendance at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“It’s amazing. It’s so tight in that locker room right now and everybody’s really buying into what coach is saying,” said Roughnecks forward Jesse King. “We’re just excited to play together another week. We get at least two weeks back together now, which coach is just preaching you play for that extra week, you play for the guy beside you, and I think we’re going to continue to do that moving into the finals.”
The first two quarters were a gritty defensive battle, with the first goal not coming until the 5:47 mark of the second quarter when Tyler Pace fired home a power-play marker. Curtis Dickson would put the Roughnecks ahead 2-0 heading into the break with his first of the night with nine seconds remaining in the quarter.
In low-scoring, defensive struggles like the first two quarters, King said it’s a matter of staying the course and continuing to do what’s made them successful all season.
“You have to stay positive in those situations, and I think that’s one of the things our offense does really well,” said King. “It’s not like we weren’t getting chances; we were getting to the net, we were getting really good shots from the outside, but the goalies played unbelievable tonight.”
The Roughnecks opened the scoring in the third quarter on King’s first of the evening, before the Mammoth answered back two minutes later on a Ryan Lee marker. The Roughnecks would then go on to put away three quick goals for the biggest lead of the game, making it 6-1 midway through the third quarter.
The Mammoth would bounce back with two quick goals of their own to pull back within three heading into the final frame, but that’s as close as they would come.
“That’s a typical playoff game. That’s just a grind,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “They put 10 toes inside the dotted line and beat the crap out of our O guys, and our guys never stopped coming. On the back end, our guys were resilient.”
The Roughnecks and Mammoth combined for the lowest scoring playoff game in the NLL since 2009, while the Roughnecks also set a new franchise record for fewest goals allowed in a playoff game.
Malawsky said although neither team was lighting the lamp at will, the play of both defenses and goaltenders made for a quality playoff lacrosse game.
“You look down the one end and Dillon Ward’s just stopping everything and Delbs (Christian Del Bianco) is stopping everything, and the fans were still on their feet,” said Malawsky. “I think it was a great, entertaining game, despite the fact the score was low.”
Del Bianco finished the night with an impressive 47 saves on 51 shots, while Ward stopped 46 of the 54 balls he saw come his way.
It took the Mammoth nearly 33 minutes to finally put the ball past Del Bianco, and he said he felt he was just in the zone.
“The whole thing was once you get to that point, you’re not thinking anymore,” said Del Bianco. “As much as I want to say you’re so focused and all that, it just comes to you at that point.”
The Roughnecks will now wait to see who they will take on in a best-of-three series for the championship.
The Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits square off tonight night and, regardless of who wins, the Roughnecks will travel to one of those two cities for game one, with game two scheduled for Saturday, May 25 back at the Saddledome.
“When you start a season, you don’t plan on being the third seed, wanting to finish third,” said Del Bianco. “You want to play in that last game and we have an opportunity to do that now, and we’re just going to go out there and execute and enjoy it.”
Tonight’s coverage of the Toronto Rock vs. Buffalo Bandits starts at 7:00pm ET with NLL Playoffs Pre-Game LIVE on the NLL’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Game action will be streamed live on B/R Live and Fanseat.