EVERETT, Wash. – Coming off of a convincing home victory in its regular season finale last Saturday, the Washington Stealth begins its quest for the 2013 National Lacrosse League Champions Cup with a West Division semi-final playoff matchup against the Edmonton Rush, today at Comcast Arena.
Game time for the playoff opener is 4:30 p.m. PDT. The game is broadcast live across the U.S and Canada on the CBS Sports Network.
For the Stealth who are making their third post-season appearance in four years, a third trip to the NLL Championship is well within its grasp, but Stealth head coach Chris Hall knows that in the playoffs anything can happen.
“We’re healthy and in good shape but this is anyone’s to grab,” Hall said.
“It’s going to come down to who is sharp, playing well and getting a bounce here or there,” he said. “The matchups are pretty even right down the line.”
Saturday’s contest is Washington’s first home playoff game since the 2010 NLL title game when it hoisted the Champions Cup in front of a home sell-out at Comcast Arena and the team, with a 5-1 all-time post-season record since moving to the state in 2010, is a blistering 3-0 in home playoff games.
Looking at tonight’s game, the Stealth historically have Edmonton’s number but has struggled this season against the Rush. In the all time series, Washington leads the Rush 12-9 including a 12-11 West Division finals overtime victory in 2010 that sent the Stealth into the NLL finals. The game was the only playoff meeting between the two squads.
Saturday’s game is the fourth meeting of the 2013 season for these teams with the Rush edging the Stealth 2-1 in the series.
In the Stealth’s only home matchup with Edmonton this season, the Rush put up an 18-10 win over Washington, taking advantage of a Stealth squad forced to play without the services of its number-one goaltender Tyler Richards who was side lined with an upper body injury.
Richards returned to the lineup the following weekend leading the Stealth to a 12-10 road victory in the second leg of the home and home series against the Rush.
While the teams have battled three times this season, they haven’t seen one another since the second month of the season where the Stealth dropped a 15-10 contest to the Rush again in Edmonton.
And both know they will be up against a new set of challenges.
“It’s a team whose games you watch every week and they’ve always been on the back burner,” said Stealth forward and the NLL regular season goals champion Rhys Duch.
“I think it’s going to be a great lacrosse game not only to play in but for the fans,” Duch said. “It’s going to be a good start to the playoffs.”
To earn a trip the Western Division Finals, the Stealth will look for another big game from Duch who comes into the 2013 post-season red hot, along with strong performances from top guns Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci.
With his four-goal performance in last Saturday’s win over Philadelphia, Duch finished the regular season with 45 goals for the first NLL goal-scoring title of his career edging last season’s scoring champ John Grant, Jr. by just two goals. Grant, Jr. ended the season with 43 goals, two goals back of the Victoria, British Columbia native. Calgary’s Curtis Dickson fell three short with 42.
“It’s a team sport I owe a tremendous amount of my personal success to the guys around me,” Duch said. “Everyone is moving the ball well we are hitting our stride working well as a team and I’ve been on the shooting end of a lot of plays so I owe a lot of credit to my teammates.”
Ratcliff comes into the post season hot as well registering two hat tricks in his previous three games including a three-goal, two-assist effort during last weekend’s season finale.
After missing the previous two games Iannucci returned to the lineup last weekend opening the scoring for the Stealth helping Washington jump out to an early lead.
“I thought (Iannucci) was re-focused and a real good team player looking for other guys,” Hall said. “It was great to see him back being the lacrosse player we think he is.”
On the other side of the ball, the Stealth finished second in the division in total defense and will be up against the division’s poorest performing offense statistically with the Rush averaging just over 10.5 goals a game in 2013.
For the Stealth, the key to stopping the Rush is to controll rookie Mark Matthews – a difference maker in both Rush wins over Washington this season.
Against the Stealth, Matthews has tallied 11 goals in three games this season. Four of those goals came in the Rush’s Jan. 20 defeat of the Stealth at Comcast Arena, while another six came in the Rush’s Feb. 15 win in Edmonton.
The Stealth defense will also be on the look-out for Ryan Ward who led the team in points with 75 largely in part to his 54 assists during the 2013 season.
Zack Greer and Cory Small who finished the regular season with 28 goals are also expected to present challenges.
Goaltending in this weekend’s game could ultimately decide who moves on to the Division Finals next weekend and you couldn’t ask for a better match-up as two of the game’s best will go head-to-head.
For the Stealth’s Richards, 2013 was a career year as the Coquitlam, British Columbia native finished among the top five in every major goaltending statistic including save percentage where he finished second logging a strong .795, fourth in saves with 579 and fifth in goals against average at 10.92.
For Edmonton, Aaron Bold had a solid year of his own finishing second in the NLL with a 10.56 GAA.
Putting it all together, Hall knows that his team has the tools to return an NLL Championship to the Pacific Northwest and he hopes that his team will ride it’s momentum to another successful playoff run.
“Our confidence is high, you want to be peaking at the right time and it’s tough to play at the highest level through a long season,” Hall said.
“You want to be peaking at the start of playoffs and be on the upswing not the down swing of the curve,” he said.
The winner of tonight’s game will move on to next Saturday’s West Division finals taking-on the winner of the other West Division semi-final matchup between the top seeded Calgary Roughnecks and the fourth seeded Colorado Mammoth.
Tickets are still available for Saturday’s game and can be purchase at www.stealthlax.com or by call 877-MY-75-TIX. Washington Stealth… It’s like hockey with balls.
NLL West Division Semi-finals
Game: Edmonton Rush (9-7) at Washington Stealth (9-7)
Date: Saturday, April 27, 2013
Time: 4:30 p.m. PDT
Location`: Comcast Arena- Everett, Wash.
Television: CBS Sports Network (Comcast channel 412 / DIRECTV channel 613 in Seattle market)
Mike Grimes was named NLL Defensive Player of the week for his two points (1g,1a), seven loose balls and one forced turnover performance in the April 20 win against the Philadelphia Wings. The Peterborough, Ontario finished the season second among NLL defenseman with 20 points and third with eight goals.
The Stealth receive nine player of the week accolades during the 2013 regular season with Cliff Smith (offense), Tyler Richards (defense) and Mitch McMichael (transition/rookie) winning two awards while Rhys Duch (offense), Tyler Garrison (Rookie), Kyle Buchanan (rookie) and Mike Grimes (Defense) each taking home one player of the week award home.
Today’s CBS Sports Network NLL playoff contest is the first nationally televised game of the season for the Stealth. In the Seattle market, the CBS Sports Network airs on Comcast channel 412 and DIRECTV channel 613.