It promises to be a special evening on Saturday night, with one team celebrating a playoff berth, while the other will be sent packing to their offseason, wondering what went wrong. That is what is at stake as the Calgary Roughnecks (6-11) visit the Vancouver Stealth (5-12) at Langley Events Centre in the final game of the 2015 National Lacrosse League regular season. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada starting at 10 p.m. ET.
A Vancouver victory would pull the two West Division rivals even with six wins apiece. But the Stealth would get the third and final playoff spot thanks to winning the season series, three games to one.
The Stealth are hoping to use the home-crowd advantage in their favor.
“There will be a game 7 atmosphere in the building,” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault. “The guys are fired up; they understand the importance of this game.”
“It’s our biggest game of the year,” said Stealth transition player Mitch McMichael. “We are pumped and excited; this is why you play lacrosse.”
The Stealth and the Roughnecks haven’t played head-to-head since a home-and-home series back in February. Vancouver won the opener 13-9 but Calgary took game two, 16-13.
Until that victory, the Roughnecks had been 0-6 but have gone 6-5 over the past 11 games to get back into playoff contention.
Including that loss, the Stealth are on a 2-9 slide ever since. The team’s also met in Week 1 with Vancouver winning on the road, 18-14.
Perreault said the team can’t focus on what has transpired over the past nine weeks.
“Right now, we are healthy and ready to go,” he said. “The biggest thing is to get the win when you need it most.”
“We are prepared,” McMichael said. “We have been making huge strides the last couple of weeks.”
“You have to be amped up for the game,” said Stealth forward Joel McCready. “Western rival, at home…Lower Mainland lacrosse hotbed. It has to be a full house.”
The teams enter the game equal in the goal-scoring department as they both average 11.6 goals per game. The big difference is the defensive end as the Stealth have allowed a league-worse 14.8 goals against. Calgary surrenders a dozen goals per game.
Special teams also favor Calgary. The Roughnecks also boast the most-potent power play, connecting on 55% of their chances (46-for-83) and have the best penalty kill, killing off 64% of the opposition’s chances (36 goals allowed on 101 chances).
The Stealth (45-for-102) come in at 44% on the power play and a 44% penalty kill percentage (51 goals allowed on 92 chances). Vancouver has also allowed a league-high 16 short-handed goals.
The Roughnecks are coming off a bye week after winning its last contest 10-6 in Minnesota in Week 16. Having a weekend off to train and prepare for the upcoming match is valuable for the team, as well as the ability to rest after playing 13-straight weeks this season including two double-headers.
“The rest was welcomed, and certainly the weekend off,” said Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider. “(We’ve been) mixing in a lot more training than I think we’ve been doing in the past based on our schedule; but it was nice to get the work in, nice to keep our stick in our hands, getting ready to roll for the weekend here.”
The last time the two teams faced each other it was the Roughnecks who came out on top in Week 7. After a slow start to the year, that game was the Riggers’ first triumph of the season after six losses. Since their last meeting, the Roughnecks have had a record of 6-5, whereas the Stealth have seen a record of 2-9.
Coaching staff believes that the team has changed drastically over the season, improving all areas of its game, as well as signing forward Sean Pollock and trading defenseman Matthew Dinsdale.
“We’re a whole different team than we were in February, there’s a lot of different aspects (that have changed),” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky.
The Stealth will have a lot on its hands as the Roughnecks sport many top scorers in the league including Shawn Evans and Curtis Dickson. Another unlikely scorer to look out for on Saturday night is defenseman Mike Carnegie who has scored his only goals against the Vancouver Stealth since its 2013 season open.
Despite having a veteran team, the Riggers have fallen to the Stealth twice this year. The locker room is not underestimating the skill of the team they are facing. But a weekend off has given the Riggers a sense of preparedness; and has given the coaching staff an ample chance to come up with a game plan.
“Our locker room is filled with guys that have been in massive games, and have come out on the winning end and losing end,” Snider said. “I think the guys have really reflected on our successes and failures as a team, and individuals, over the course of the season. We have a great group of warriors, we’ve got guys that understand how talented and competitive that Vancouver team is…and we’re prepared for the biggest game of the season.”
“We’re competing just the same as they are; for our jobs and our lives into the postseason,” Snider added. “We’re prepared, our coaching staff has done an excellent job putting everything that we need to know in front of us, it’s on us to come out and execute.”
Whichever team comes out on top on Saturday will travel to Colorado to take on the Mammoth in the first round of the playoffs. Both the Stealth and the Roughneck’s are fired up and ready to compete in their last chance for a playoff spot in the 2015 NLL season.
“We’re going to be a very well prepared team,” Malawsky said. “And the guys are chomping at the bit to go.”
By Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) and Laura Bates (@RoughnecksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.