For the second straight game, the Washington Stealth needed to overcome a slow first quarter. And for the second straight game, the Stealth dominated the final 45 minutes to advance to the next round of the National Lacrosse League playoffs. Tonight, it was a 10-8 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks that put the Stealth in the NLL Championship game with a chance to become the first team since 2003 to repeat as NLL Champion.
The first quarter belonged to the Roughnecks, thanks to a series of penalties charged to the Stealth. Calgary scored three power play goals, but with just over three minutes left in the quarter, Rhys Duch took a great pass from Paul Rabil for a shorthanded goal that made it 3-1 heading into the second quarter.
“Tonight, we took some bad penalties early on,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “It put us in a 3-0 hole playing down a man the whole time. The shorthanded goal from Duch was huge and we didn’t allow a five-on-five goal for three quarters.”
In the second frame, the Stealth took over. Jeff Zywicki, playing in his second game since March, scored back-to-back goals to tie the game midway through the second quarter. Lewis Ratcliff scored his first goal of the game to give the Stealth its first lead with seven minutes remaining in the half. The Stealth held on to the 4-3 lead as the teams headed to the locker room at the halftime break.
Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards made 11 saves in the second quarter, allowing no goals. He made 44 saves in the game.
“We finally settled down after our slow start,” said Zywicki. “[Coach Hall] blew up at us at halftime and we got it figured out. We got the ball moving on offense and the defense kept everything to the outside.”
The Stealth continued to roll in the second half, with Ratcliff scoring three minutes into the third to extend the Stealth lead to 5-3. The Stealth scored seven unanswered goals as they took a 7-3 lead with ten minutes left in the third quarter. Calgary scored yet another power play goal with 4:11 left in the third, but Rabil answered with his only goal of the night less than 30 seconds later. The Stealth held an 8-4 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
The Roughnecks came out and cut the Stealth lead to two early in the fourth. Calgary’s leading scorer, Jeff Shattler, scored his first goal of the game just five minutes into the quarter and Geoff Snider added his only goal less than three minutes later. But the Stealth responded with goals from Cliff Smith and Ratcliff, proving to be enough to advance to the NLL Championship Game.
Curtis Dickson and Dane Dobbie each scored in the final five minutes of action, but the Roughnecks fell short in the end. The Stealth left the Scotiabank Saddledome with a 10-8 victory.
Ratcliff led all scorers with seven points on three goals and four assists. Zywicki tallied a hat trick as well and added three assists.
“We missed the leadership of Zywicki and Sorensen,” said Hall. “We are finally healthy and playing like a cohesive unit.”
Wiles finished with a goal and four assists while Duch finished with a goal and three assists.
Daryl Veltman was the only Roughneck to score more than one goal in the game. He scored twice while Scott Ranger finished with a team-high four assists. Mike Poulin made 43 saves in goal.
The Stealth will face the Toronto Rock in a rematch of last year’s NLL Championship Game on May 15. That game will be played at the Air Canada Center in Toronto at 11am PST. It will be broadcast live in the US on Versus.
“It’s almost perfect that we get to go to their barn,” said Ratcliff on facing his former team for the second straight Champion’s Cup Final. “We beat them at home last year and now we get the chance to prove we deserved it by playing them at their place.”