The Roughnecks have an opportunity to become the 2018-19 NLL champions on home turf Saturday night when they take on the Buffalo Bandits in Game 2 of the best-of-three series at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“It’s exciting; it’s an amazing opportunity to have to win this at home,” said Roughnecks forward Rhys Duch. “The city’s just really behind this team. We’ve had some amazing crowds all year, and even some bigger ones towards the end, so I think they deserve to see a champion.”
The Roughnecks earned the opportunity to win the championship in front of their home crowd with a 10-7 victory in Game 1 in Buffalo last Saturday night. While the opportunity to win at home is exciting, Duch said they’re trying not to look too far ahead because they still have to fend off what will be a desperate Bandits squad.
“We’re definitely not getting ahead of ourselves. Now their backs are against the wall and it’s do or die for them,” said Duch. “We’re also going to try and hold onto that same mentality. We’ve been treating every game as do or die, regardless of the situation.”
Dating back to the start of the regular season, expectations and hopes were high for the Roughnecks before the injury bug hit hard. Having returned to full health at the perfect time, they are now starting to show what this team is capable of as their win streak extends to six games.
“We’ve always known we were capable,” said Duch. “The good thing about the NLL and the way the league is structured is if you get hot at the end of the season and into the playoffs, you set yourself up pretty well.”
One of the big reasons for the Roughnecks’ success in Game 1, and the playoffs as a whole, has the been the play of goaltender Christian Del Bianco. In three playoff games, Del Bianco has put together a 7.33 GAA and a .863 save percentage, good for first and second in the league respectively, despite allowing an average of 53.33 shots-per game this post-season.
Despite the low-goal totals the Roughnecks have allowed so far in the post-season, Head Coach Curt Malawsky said there’s still some areas they need to improve on before Saturday night.
“We’ve been good; we’ve been playing our system and trying to do our best to dictate shots,” said Malawsky. “But in the last game I thought Buffalo got some quality looks, so we’re going to have to make some tweaks and adjustments to try to limit those chances and try to get more sticks in those lanes.”
Win or lose, a constant theme for the Roughnecks throughout the regular season and playoffs has been sticking to the process. Despite what’s at stake Saturday night, Malawsky said nothing changes as far as what they need to do to win and where their mindset is at.
“We need to continue to remember who we are and continue to focus on what we can control, which is our ideologies and our systems,” said Malawsky. “We’re strictly, 100% process.”
While it may not be an elimination game for the Roughnecks, the Bandits are in must-win territory if they want a chance to hoist the NLL Cup in front of their fans. Bandits head coach John Tavares said there’s a reason the Roughnecks are in the position they’re in and knows his club will need their best effort of the season to take the series back to Buffalo for Game 3.
“They are a very good team and very athletic,” said Tavares in an article by John Gurtler. “They have to be one of the best teams, if not the best, the second part of the season. They are on a roll having won six straight. We are in for a tough battle against these guys. They deserve to be in the championship.”
Buffalo will look to get back to playing their brand of lacrosse in Game 2, something they were unable to achieve last Saturday as the offense never seemed to find any rhythm. Averaging a league high 13.6 goals per game in the regular season, putting only seven past Del Bianco was certainly unsettling for the high flying Bandits. Especially when the star trio of Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne and Shawn Evans could only put up four goals between the group.
“Whenever we are struggling to score, he is always there giving us pointers and what he is seeing on the defensive end, the goaltending side and knowing that he was the best ever to do it definitely gives us confidence,” said Josh Byrne (2G, 2A in Game 1) on Coach Tavares. With a Bandits win, the NLL Finals will continue for a third and final game next Friday at 8:00pm ET in Buffalo.
Game 2 of the NLL Finals, presented by Michelob Ultra, is set for this Saturday at 9:00 pm at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Coverage will begin at 8:30pm 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.