The Edmonton Rush pulled off a major upset on Saturday night when they destroyed the Calgary Roughnecks 19-11 in front of just over 11,000 stunned fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Rush outplayed the Roughnecks in virtually every aspect of the game. They came out with focus, determination and energy which the Roughnecks simply were not able to match.
As a result, the team with the best regular season record is out of playoff contention and the team that limped in with the worst record of any playoff team is now just a win away from a shot at the Champion's Cup.
In Edmonton's only other playoff appearance, in 2010, they also faced Calgary and faced similarly long odds. The Roughnecks were the defending league champions and were well-positioned to go the the Big Dance again. But the Rush upset the Riggers 11-7 in the first round that year as well.
Edmonton would lose in the second round to the eventual Champion's Cup winners, the Washington Stealth.
Edmonton's defense, the best part of their game all season, had a strong showing once again on Saturday, keeping the second-best offense in the NLL at bay and forcing Calgary's shooters to settle for mid- or long-range shots for the most part.
But where the Rush really shone on the weekend was on offense. Taking advantage of every opportunity, Edmonton's scorers were consistently able to spring shooters loose in front of the net and create odd-man rushes on transition, for which Calgary simply had no answer.
The result was the most goals Edmonton has ever scored in a single game.
Ryan Ward picked up 11 points on five goals and six assists, while Corey Small added five goals of his own and eight points.
By contrast, Calgary's play was, for the most part, awful.
After opening the scoring with a power-play goal by Scott Ranger, the Roughnecks' defense fell apart, giving up six first-quarter goals and putting the team into a hole they would not be able to dig themselves out of.
Goalie Mike Poulin was pulled, replaced by backup Frankie Scigliano, and eventually reinserted in the net over the course of the game and their combined play was not quite up to the high standards Roughnecks fans have come to expect this year.
Nevertheless, as often as not, they were left with little or no chance as the Rush repeatedly found men wide open on the Roughnecks' doorstep, where goalies have little chance of making a stop.
Likewise, the 'Necks found themselves repeatedly caught on transition where the Rush converted several opportunities.
Calgary looked completely off their game through most of this contest. They turned the ball over a whopping 32 times and, although they out-shot Edmonton 79-70, they only recorded 52 shots on goal, as compared to 59 by the Rush.
And the Rush made them pay again and again for those mistakes.
The Roughnecks pretty much hit rock bottom as the fourth quarter wore on and desperation began to set in.
Normally reliable shooter and playmaker Shawn Evans blew a pass so badly it shot over the glass and into the top row of seats in the lower bowl of the Saddledome. And then, with just three and a half minutes remaining and the Roughnecks down by four goals, Poulin, in attempting an outlet pass after a big save, lost control of the ball and it bounced backward into his own net, virtually sealing the deal for Edmonton.
On a positive note, even with as poor a showing as the Roughnecks provided, they still scored 11 goals. Even when they seemingly can do nothing right, the talent level is so great in this offense that they can pump out that level of production almost by accident.
This bodes well for next year.
Two days later there's still a nagging question that no one seems to be asking or answering: where was Curtis Dickson?
Dickson, the 2011 NLL Rookie of the Year, tied for second on the team in goals this year with 31. However, he left the Roughnecks' last regular-season game—ironically against Edmonton—in the second quarter with an unspecified arm injury and did not return.
There was not even a mention of his absence in the postgame news following that tilt, nor was there even a whisper of a problem during the next two weeks leading up to this past weekend's playoff game.
Who will play in the 2012 Champion's Cup?
As the Roughnecks pack up their lockers and head home for the summer, we are left wondering where is Curtis Dickson.
Could his presence in the lineup have made any difference? How serious is the injury, and will he be ready to play again by next January?
Ultimately, the lesson of this game is simple: show up to play or you will lose in this league. With a great deal of parity across the board and an abundance of talent everywhere, a 6-10 team can and will upset a 12-4 team if one squad shows up ready to play and the other, for whatever reason, doesn't.
Next week, the Rush travel to Minnesota to take on the Swarm, who also pulled off an upset by beating the Colorado Mammoth. The winner of that game will take on either the Toronto Rock or Rochester Knighthawks from the East Division for the NLL title in two weeks' time.
Best bring your A-game, because anything less simply isn't good enough at this level.