NLL: Roughnecks will represent the West in NLL Cup

Dan Taylor and Tyler Pace celebrate a goal. Saskatchewan Rush @ Calgary Roughnecks, April 20, 2019. (Photo: Cliff McCaig)

The Calgary Roughnecks will return to the NLL Finals for the first time since 2014 after defeating the Colorado Mammoth 8-4 last Friday night at Scotiabank Saddledome. The Roughnecks used a combination of suffocating defense and a near automatic power play to once again overcome the Mammoth and push their career playoff record to 10-1 against Colorado.

When the game had reached its conclusion, it was hard to look much further than the dazzling play of young goaltender Christian Del Bianco. Del Bianco went on an amazing 33-minute run before finally surrendering a goal to the Mammoth at the 2:54 mark of the third quarter. In total, Del Bianco surrendered just four goals on 51 shots for an out of this world save percentage of .922.

The game was a defensive battle from start to finish and didn’t see its first goal until 5:47 of the second quarter when Tyler Pace dunked the ball from behind the net giving the Riggers the lead. Calgary would add another just before the half ended when Curtis Dickson scored a Curtis Dickson-type goal. As the clock wound down, Dickson came from behind the net, took a feed from Rhys Duch and flicked a little underhand shot that found the back of the net. At the conclusion of the half, the clubs had combined for 54 shots but it was Calgary holding a slim 2-0 lead.

With Colorado getting an equally good goaltending performance from Dillon Ward, the difference came down to special teams and that’s where Calgary dominated. Five times the Roughnecks were able to find the back of the net on the man up compared to just once for the Mammoth. A five-minute major to Scott Carnegie early in the third was particularly damaging as Calgary tallied three times making the score 6-1. During that run, NLL points leader Dane Dobbie scored the goal of the game on a beautiful behind-the-back shot while falling to the turf. Colorado showed signs of life as Eli McLaughlin and Cory Vitarelli tallied back-to-back goals to narrow the margin to 6-3 after three quarters.

Unfortunately for the Mammoth, they were unable to generate the push they needed in the final quarter. Despite firing 15 shots at the Calgary net, only Ryan Lee with his second of the night was able to beat Del Bianco. Curtis Dickson and Reece Callies each scored to secure the Roughnecks’ victory.

After their stunning win against Saskatchewan last week, Colorado’s shooters ran into a hot goaltender. Eli McLaughlin (1G, 2A) and Chris Wardle (3A) led all Mammoth scorers with three points apiece. Veteran goalie Dillon Ward, who surely would’ve gotten the win on any other night, stopped 46 of 54 shots and only gave up two truly even-strength goals.

As they’ve done all season long, Calgary relied on their MVP candidate Dane Dobbie. In a tight game, Dobbie factored in on an astonishing 75% of Calgary’s goals finishing with two scores and four assists. Tyler Burton dominated the faceoff circle winning 11 of 16 draws and Zach Currier led all players with 12 loose balls.

The NLL Finals are set as the Buffalo Bandits will take on the Calgary Roughnecks in a best of three to determine who will hoist the NLL Cup. Game one goes in Buffalo this Saturday, May 18th at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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