Ryan Ward led the way with five goals and six assists as the Edmonton Rush upset the first place Calgary Roughnecks 19-11 on Saturday night in a National Lacrosse League West semifinal.
Calgary entered the post-season the No. 1 seed overall after a 12-4 regular season while Edmonton had the worst record of the NLL's eight playoff teams at 6-10. During the last two seasons, Calgary had dominated Edmonton winning all eight meetings.
"We weren't clutching our sticks, we felt that the pressure's not on us, no one expects us to win, so just go out and play, work, compete, do the little things and the ball will drop," said Ward.
What resulted was the same outcome as two years ago when Edmonton upset Calgary 11-7 in the Rush's only previous playoff win.
"It really did feel similar to 2010 when we had that lead, that cushion, and we just never let up. It was eerie," said Ward, also the central figure in the game two years ago when he lead the Rush with nine points.
"Ryan was big for us tonight and I feel good for him," said Edmonton coach Derek Keenan. "We really challenged him because he hadn't had a great year, but he's a guy we really relied on tonight."
The Rush seized momentum early, jumping out to a 6-2 first quarter lead against the NLL's stingiest defence and never looked back.
"That was big, to get a good start in a difficult place to play and against a team who if they get momentum, they're really tough to stop," said Keenan.
Corey Small also had a big night offensively for Edmonton with five goals and three assists. Tom Johnson scored three times, Zack Greer scored twice, while Aaron Wilson, Shawn Williams, Jim Quinlan and John LaFontaine rounded out the scoring.
Scott Ranger led Calgary with four goals. Dane Dobbie scored three times while Shawn Evans and Jeff Shattler had two goals each.
Edmonton outshot Calgary 58-52. Rush goaltender Aaron Bold earned the victory.
Edmonton travels to Minnesota next weekend to take on the Swarm, who upset the Colorado Mammoth 14-10 in the other West semifinal.
"We had so much turnover from last year to this year, we didn't gel right away. But now we're starting to hit our stride and in a one game playoff, anything goes," said Ward. "We've found the recipe that works and we've got to stick with it next week. It's going to be a run-and-gun game because Minnesota plays the same way."
Since taking over as coach of the Roughnecks three years ago, Dave Pym has led his team to a 33-15 regular season record yet they have failed to make it out of the West in the playoffs.
"It's on my shoulders 100 per cent," said Pym. "Maybe it was the preparation. We've been down this road now three years in a row under my tutelage and it's obviously not good enough so we'll see what happens in the future."
Calgary's high-scoring offence could not get on a momentum-creating run, never scoring more than twice in a row.
"It's frustrating as hell. When we have a team this good and this deep and just to piss it away like that it's just very, very frustrating," said Ranger. "We weren't working hard enough. It's unacceptable and our season's over because of it."
The Scotiabank Saddledome crowd of 11,161 were quieted early.
Roughnecks goaltender Mike Poulin, who missed the last two games of the regular season with a lower-body injury, didn't make it through the first quarter. He was replaced by rookie Frankie Scigliano with 1:24 remaining after goals 29 seconds apart increased the Rush's lead to 6-2.
"Give credit to Edmonton, they came out with a lot of jump and a lot of enthusiasm. I don't know if we were nervous or gripping the sticks a little bit too tight but we could never just get the ball or our feet under us," said Calgary captain Andrew McBride.
Calgary trailed the rest of the night. The closest they would come to getting back to even was when Ranger scored 53 seconds into the third quarter to cut the Roughnecks' lead to 9-7.
However, three Edmonton goals in a span of less than three minutes restored Edmonton's lead to five goals and resulted in another goaltending change with Poulin returning to the net. Scigliano surrendered six goals on 13 shots in his 21-plus minutes.
"Every time we needed a stop we couldn't get one and they kept getting those ones they needed to," McBride said. "That's what lacrosse is all about. It's a game of runs and stopping those runs and we couldn't do that tonight."
Notes: Quinlan got to Calgary just in time for the game, after being on hand in Edmonton for the birth of his first baby at 10 o'clock Saturday morning... Second-year Calgary forward Curtis Dickson (upper body) did not play. Dickson, who recorded hat-tricks against Edmonton in his first six games against them, was hurt against the Rush in the final game of the regular season. Also not available to the Roughnecks was D Jon Harnett (upper body). ... Among the scratches for Edmonton was Scott Evans, older brother of Calgary's Shawn Evans, whose 23 goals ranked him second on the team during the regular season.