Coming into tonight’s contest between the Washington Stealth and the Boston Blazers, many expected an outpouring of offense with the top four scorers in the National Lacrosse League and ten All-Stars on the floor. But defense prevailed until the final second of the game as Rhys Duch scored as time expired to give the Stealth a 9-8 victory in a low-scoring affair.
The win evens the Stealth’s record at 6-6 and clinches its fifth straight appearance in the playoffs. A loss tonight by the Minnesota Swarm puts the Stealth in a tie for second place in the NLL West Division. Boston falls to 6-6 on the year and sits in third place in the East.
It took six minutes for either team to find the back of the net in the first quarter. Paul Rabil scored his eleventh goal of the season to put the Stealth up 1-0. Boston’s lone goal of the opening frame came over four minutes later from the NLL’s points leader, Dan Dawson, to tie the game. Dawson finished the game with a goal and an assist, the first time he was held to less than four points in a game this season.
Despite the Blazers out shooting the Stealth 17-7the score remained 1-1 as the first quarter came to a close. Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards made 16 of his 42 saves in the quarter.
In the second quarter, the Stealth offense was able to find its groove while Richards continued to stymie the high-powered Blazers offense. Five different Stealth players scored in the quarter, including Rabil with his second tally of the game. The Blazers got just one goal, scored by forward Jamie Rooney with less than five minutes left in the half. The Stealth went into the locker room with a comfortable 6-2 lead.
The Blazers were able to climb back into the game in the third, due in large part to the play of their All-Star goaltender, Anthony Cosmo. Cosmo stopped all ten shots he faced in the third, shutting out the Stealth offense while the Blazers offense scored twice to cut the Stealth lead to two goals going into the fourth quarter.
The Blazers continued its second half rally in the final stanza, capitalizing on a Stealth five-minute penalty with a pair of power play goals to tie the score at six with 6:12 left in regulation. Boston finished the game 3-for-5 with an extra man.
With 5:54 left in the fourth, Lewis Ratcliff scored his second goal of the game to regain the lead for the Stealth. Less than a minute later the Blazers responded with a power play goal from Casey Powell to knot the score at seven.
The back and forth action continued in the closing minutes of the fourth. Stealth defenseman Kyle Sorensen, playing in his first game of the season after sustaining a knee injury that landed him on the physically unable to perform list, picked off a pass with 2:30 on the clock and traveled the length of the floor to bury a goal that made it 8-7.
Once again the Blazers found the answer, as Jamie Rooney tallied his fourth goal of the night with 1:25 remaining to make it 8-8.
The Blazers were called for a slashing penalty with 33 seconds left, giving the Stealth a power play opportunity at a crucial stage of the game. But as the Stealth searched for an opening to get the potential game winner, the Blazers were called for a holding penalty with just 1.7 seconds left on the clock. With a five-on-three power play, Stealth forward Craig Conn made a perfect pass to Rhys Duch as play began, and Duch fired the ball towards the goal in one swift motion. Just before the buzzer sounded, the ball rifled past Cosmo, who was screened by a defender, and into the net for the game-winning tally.
The Stealth players mobbed Duch as the play was reviewed by the officials, who eventually ruled the goal would count, and the Stealth took the 9-8 victory in dramatic fashion.
The game-winner was the only goal of the night for Duch, who entered the game as the NLL leader in goals scored. He also finished with three assists. Duch has made a habit of scoring goals late in games, tonight’s dramatic tally the fourth game-winner of the season for the 2011 All-Star.
“We play the game for the competition,” he said after the game. “And when the competition is fierce at the end of the game, you want to be the guy getting the ball.”
Ratcliff and Rabil each finished with a pair of goals and Mike Grimes, Luke Wiles and Cam Sedgwick each finished with a goal and an assist. Richards earned the game’s MVP honors with his 42 saves, including some timely saves in the closing minutes.
“Tyler [Richards] was phenomenal for us all game,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “He kept the game close early and gave us a chance to win it late. The defense played their most complete game of the year.”
Rooney led the Blazers with a game-high four goals and the Stealth defense held Boston’s “Big 3” of Dawson, Powell and Josh Sanderson to just two goals combined.
“We did a great job and held Powell and Dawson in check,” said Hall. “Shutting down the big three was a big part of our game plan and Richards and the defense were superb in doing that.”
Cosmo, widely regarded as one of the game’s top goaltenders, also had a superb game, making 41 saves in the loss.
The Stealth returns to action next weekend with an East Coast doubleheader against the top two teams in the East Division, the Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits. The rematch of the 2010 Champion’s Cup Final against Toronto takes place on April 1. That game can be seen live in Canada on TSN, or in the U.S. on Versus at 11am on April 2. That game is followed by a trip to the HSBC Arena in Buffalo on April 2.