It was similar to a shootout at the OK Corral.
But it was actually an exciting, back-and-forth NLL Quarterfinal postseason elimination showdown between West Conference rivals the Calgary Roughnecks and Panther City Lacrosse Club.
After trailing 6-3 in the first quarter and multiple lead changes throughout the game, the Roughnecks rode a dominant 4-0 fourth quarter to dispatch their foes from Fort Worth, TX with a 12-9 win Saturday night on WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome in front of 10,104 faithful.
Forward Tyler Pace led the way for Calgary with four goals, including a natural hat trick in that final quarter, and four assists while captain Jesse King recorded three goals and three assists. Tanner Cook and Zach Currier both had two goals each, including one-handed and leaping highlight-reel tallies. Cook added four assists.
“I kept getting looks,” Pace said in a postgame interview. “I kept shooting the ball and they ended up falling.”
Roughnecks goalie Christian Del Bianco made 37 saves on 46 shots. He allowed six goals on the first nine shots, but only gave up three more in the next 45-plus minutes.
Panther City goalie Nick Damude had 38 stops on 49 shots. Patrick Dodds (2g, 2a), Callum Crawford (1g, 3a) and Will Malcom (1g, 3a with a beauty behind-the-net dunk) all had four points each for PCLC, which led 6-4 after the first quarter and 9-8 after shutting out the Roughnecks in the third.
“It’s playoff lacrosse,” said Pace. “They’re a good team. I know it’s only their second year, but they made a lot of moves to change their roster. They’ve got a good goalie, they’ve been playing well all year long. They earned a spot in the playoffs, we just ended up being better in the end.”
Calgary’s King opened the scoring early, finding twine just 31 seconds in. But PCLC scored three times in the next three minutes and then stretched the lead to 6-3 with 4:45 remaining in the quarter.
“I didn’t think we necessarily had the best start there and we just battled back,” Del Bianco said. “It’s a long road, you go through the whole regular season and ups and downs and then obviously we kind of go out there and our first quarter was a stinker and I think you just stick with it.
“Obviously they’re a great team, they work hard, and you have to give them credit for just how they come out in games. That sprint, and they have a lot of young bodies out there that just keep going. They came out swinging and it kind of caught us off-guard, and we were able to regroup.”
The Roughnecks overtook PCLC on four straight goals to make it 7-6 Calgary in the second quarter, which would end 8-7.
“You go into the dressing room at half and just that thought process of, hey if we lose this game, that’s it, we don’t get to come back next weekend,” said Del Bianco. “So it was nice for us to pull it out. I think you just got to keep the effort and keep the process, and hopefully it works out.”
But the outcome was well in doubt in the third quarter as PCLC scored twice, including a short-handed goal by captain Matt Hossack, to take back the lead at 9-8 heading into the final frame.
That’s when Pace stepped up, scoring twice with time and space on the power play at 12:55 and 8:40 to give Calgary a lead it would never relinquish at 10-9. Pace added another goal, a long quick-stick shot, with 2:06 left in the game on a broken play with the 30-second clock winding down.
“All season long we’ve just been worrying about the next five minutes, staying calm on the bench and over time we see the success,” Pace said. “And as long as we just stick to our process, we’re going to find the results and that’s what happened.”
Jeff Cornwall would add an empty-net insurance marker for the Roughnecks, who move on to face the Colorado Mammoth in the best-of-three West Conference Finals. Game 1 is Thursday at Ball Arena with Game 2 scheduled next Saturday at the Saddledome.
“They won the championship last year as the underdogs,” said Pace “They’ve got a strong, strong goaltender. They’re ready to win and so are we, and it’s going to be a tough battle. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes three.”
Del Bianco agrees about the upcoming tough tusk task against the reigning NLL Cup winning Mammoth: “I think their offence has a lot of different guys that can hurt you, you know their defence is going to be good and [goalie] Dillon Ward is Dillon Ward, right? We’re excited for the opportunity to go head-to-head with them. Colorado’s just one of those great rivalries that the league loves.”
Colorado beat Calgary at the Saddledome last season in the Quarterfinals on their way to the championship but the Roughnecks took two of three from the Mammoth in the regular season.
“We were disappointed last year after our home [Quarterfinal] game, so to move on to the second round is big,” Pace said. “I think we deserve this. I think we’ve earned it, moving on to the next round. It’s time to get back to work.”
The Roughnecks and Mammoth last met in the West Conference Finals in 2019. Calgary won that single game skirmish en route to the NLL Cup championship that season.
“They grind, they compete, they’re built very much the same as we are,” said Roughnecks coach Curt Malawsky. “They got really good offence, they got a good draw guy, they got a great back end, they got a great goalie. It’s going to be a battle. It’s a war of attrition when it comes down to these series.”
Jonathan Donville and Mathieu Gauthier also both had one goal and three assists for PCLC, which is looking forward to next season after making the playoffs in just its second year in the league with a lot of young talent getting invaluable experience.
“We were awesome this year. We raised it to a new level,” Hossack said postgame in the PCLC dressing room. “Understand that this is a stepping stone. Nobody said it’s going to happen right away. You always have to earn it. We weren’t the better team tonight. Our goal is for next year, what’s next.”