New West, Maple Ridge ready to reenact past playoff greviances

They know who, and now when.

For the New Westminster Salmonbellies, the next question is how far?

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The Western Lacrosse Association playoffs opening round begins in earnest on Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. at the Cam Neely Arena, as New West visits the Maple Ridge Burrards.

The semifinal pits the second-place Burrards against the third-place ‘Bellies, after a wildly competitive regular season that saw the top-five teams finish within three points of each other.

Game 2 of the semifinal goes Friday (7:30 p.m.) at Queen’s Park Arena.

In head-to-head action, Maple Ridge (12-6-0) won the regular season series 2-1, with victories of 9-8 and 11-5, while the ‘Bellies (11-7-0) took a 10-9 win on the road.

Led by Goaltender of the Week recipient Alexis Buque, New West will be looking to replicate what they accomplished in 2017 en route to the Mann Cup championship series. In that series, the underdog ‘Bellies overcame a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate Maple Ridge 9-8 in double-overtime. Then just as now, Buque was a primary reason why the team emerged successful. In the past week he posted an .891 save percentage over two wins.

The '17 lineup would go on to beat Victoria in five games for the WLA title.

The Burrards, meanwhile, would prefer to call on last year’s playoff encounter, when they were the underdogs and made quick work of regular season champion New West in four straight.

Of course, both of those series are ancient history.

Mitch Jones will be a major focus for the Maple Ridge defence, after capturing the league scoring title with 31 goals and 59 assists while playing on the league’s most potent attack Like Buque, Jones put on a clinic in the final week of the regular season, counting 15 points to catapult past Burnaby's Robert Church for the league lead. He would score 11 times in the last three games to pace the offence.

New West led the league in scoring, generating 202 goals over 18 games. The Burrards were third overall, with 171 goals, but posted the stingiest defence with just 121 goals against, while New West was third overall defensively with 155 goals surrendered.

And while the ‘Bellies management decided to stand-pat at the trade deadline a month ago, Maple Ridge loaded up by acquiring the 2019 playing rights of Dane Dobbie, Wes Berg and netminder Christian Del Bianco, who join the already handful Curtis Dickson and Ben McIntosh, as well as goalie Frank Scigliano.

Before the season started, New West’s main additions came in the form of defender Justin Salt, sniper Austin Shanks (counted 36 goals and 21 assists), transition player Keegan Bal (second in team scoring with 26 goals and 45 assists) and the return of Kevin Crowley, who contributed eight goals and 12 assists over four games.

Game 3 is slated for Sunday in Maple Ridge (4 p.m.), while Game 4 goes Tues., Aug. 6, 7:30 p.m. at Queen’s Park Arena.

More games, if necessary, will go as follows: Game 5 – Aug. 8 in Maple Ridge, 7:30 p.m.; Game  6 – Aug. 10 in New West, 7:30 p.m.; Game 7 – Aug. 11 in Maple Ridge, 6 p.m.

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