The Calgary Roughnecks (9-8) will look to extend their winning streak to three games when they welcome the Saskatchewan Rush (10-6) into the Scotiabank Saddledome for a divisional clash to close out the regular season Saturday night.
The Roughnecks are coming off wins against the Philadelphia Wings and Georgia Swarm in their last two games and appear to be finding their footing just in time for the post-season.
“We just need to focus on our game and what we’re doing,” said Roughnecks forward Rhys Duch.
“We’ve just been playing to our strengths and implementing that blue-collar work ethic that makes us successful.”
Although the Roughnecks locked up their playoff spot several weeks ago, they still have an opportunity to secure a home playoff game.
With a win Saturday night, combined with a Rush loss next week and two San Diego Seals losses, the Roughnecks can clinch the top seed in the West division. Additionally, they can clinch the number two seed with a win Saturday night and two Seals losses, or a win Saturday night combined with two Seals wins and a Rush loss next weekend.
“I’ve never played in front of crowds cheering on my side like they are in Calgary. The city is totally behind the team,” said Duch.
“With the Flames being in the playoffs too, there’s just sports fever right now. It really does create an awesome atmosphere to play in.”
But first, the Roughnecks must take care of business Saturday before they can start scoreboard watching.
They’ll be contending with a Rush defense that’s allowed the fewest shots-against per game in the NLL at 47.
Duch said it’s going to be key for them to take advantage of their opportunities when they’re presented.
“Saskatchewan is kind of a creature of habit when it comes to their defense, so if you let them get too comfortable and start dictating where you’re taking the shots from, that’s how they keep the shots down,” said Duch.
“It’s going to be about creating opportunities and making sure we take the shots when they present themselves.”
One area that has plagued the Roughnecks frequently this season is putting together a full game.
Goaltender Christian Del Bianco said if they hope to come away with the win Saturday, they’re going to need to be at their best for the entirety of the game.
“We need a full 60 minutes. The reality is they’re a team that’s going to push it all the way through. They come out hard in the first, second, third, and fourth. They really test you mentally,” said Del Bianco.
“We just need to out-will them, win the loose balls, and win all the gritty parts of the game.”
Del Bianco has been a workhorse for the Roughnecks this season, appearing in all 17 games while posting an 11.35 goals-against average and a .780 save percentage.
Having already tasted playoff lacrosse last season, Del Bianco said he approaches each game the same, no matter what’s at stake.
“For me, it’s kind of the whole theory of keep it simple, stupid,” said Del Bianco.
“I just try not to think too much, and just stop the ball. I think it doesn’t matter what game it is, you have to treat it the same way.”
Home playoff game or no home playoff game, a win Saturday would give the Roughnecks a big confidence boost to go along with a massive wave of momentum heading into the playoffs.
Del Bianco said no matter what’s at stake, all games matter at this point of the season.
“Once you get to this point of the season, every game is must-win,” said Del Bianco.
“Every team in the league is treating it that way, and you’re trying to figure out who you are heading into playoffs.