The Washington Stealth entered tonight’s contest in need of a win to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Stealth got that win in convincing fashion as twelve different players pitched in with goals to beat the Minnesota Swarm 20-13 and improve to 4-8 on the year.
Less than 24 hours before the start of tonight’s game, the Stealth suffered a disappointing 10-9 loss to the Edmonton Rush. The team was forced into a must-win game and responded the way Head Coach Chris Hall expects from a team that has appeared in each of the last two NLL Championship Games.
“As talented as I think we are, it is unacceptable for us to be in last place and playing as poorly as we have been,” said Hall. “I challenged them during the film session to play like thae talent we have here should play.”
The Stealth appeared to take Hall’s words to heart and was on fire from the opening face-off. Just 20 seconds into the game, Brett Bucktooth scored and sparked a four-goal run to start the game.
The Stealth special teams were instrumental in the impressive start. The man-down team killed off a five-on-three penalty and got a shorthanded goal from Rhys Duch in the process. The power play unit, which was dominant all night, got a goal from Athan Iannucci amidst the four-goal run to open the game.
Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards stellar once again, making 19 of his 49 saves in the first quarter alone. Despite being outshot 20-15 in the opening frame, the Stealth held a 5-1 advantage after one.
“It hurt us a bit not having Tyler (Richards) in the lineup for an extended period of time earlier this year,” said Hall of his fourth-year netminder, who missed three games due to injury this season. “He’s one of the best goaltenders in the NLL and he’s proved that in the past and he proved it again tonight.”
After a Swarm power play goal made the score 5-2 early in the second quarter, Richards once again made his presence felt, making a big save on a penalty shot to preserve the three-goal lead.
“I just tried to be patient and wait for his move and make the save,” said Richards. “It felt pretty good. I think I’m now one-for-four in my career on penalty shots,” he added with a laugh.
The Swarm scored a shorthanded goal to cut the lead to two five minutes into the second quarter. Washington answered with back-to-back goals from Rhys Duch and defenseman Eric Martin to make it 7-3. The Stealth went on to a 9-4 lead at halftime.
Duch recorded his hat trick goal just over a minute into the second half to give the Stealth a 10-4 lead. He finished with four goals and six assists en route to the game’s MVP honors.
“We missed out on a big opportunity last night,” said Duch on the team’s motivation tonight. “It lit a bit of a fire under our butts and so did (Coach Hall) and we came out flying. Tonight the ball was falling for me and I guess it was my night to be a leader.”
After the Swarm scored two straight to get back within four goals, the Stealth went on another run, scoring five of the next six goals in the third quarter. Four of those goals came from defensemen as captain Jason Bloom scored his first goal of the season and Curtis Hodgson found the back of the net on a fast break. Assistant captain Kyle Sorensen scored twice during the run, adding to a first quarter goal for the first hat trick of his career.
Scoring from the defensive end is something Coach Hall preaches to his players.
“The defense was absolutely flying tonight,” said Hall. “It was a treat to watch and something we’ve been waiting to see all season. It’s the way we can play and the way I want to play every night.”
The Stealth held a 15-7 lead going into the final stanza and was on cruise control for the rest of the game. The Swarm went on a run to cut the lead to 17-12 with eight minutes left to play, but the Stealth squashed their comeback attempt with three of the final four goals of the contest. Brett Bucktooth and Dean Hill each notched their second goal of the night, followed by Lewis Ratcliff’s only goal to put the finishing touches on a 20-13 victory.
Ratcliff, the Stealth’s leading scorer coming into the game, also added six assists. Defenseman Matt Beers tallied a career-high five points on a goal and four assists. Rookie Martin Cummings, playing in his first game of the season, notched two goals and two assists. Hill added two goals and two assists and Zywicki scored a goal and three assists.
Face-off specialist Bobby Snider went 28-for-38 and grabbed a game-high 18 loose balls. Richards’ 49 saves earned him his third win of the season.
Andrew Suitor paced the Swarm with a hat trick. Jay Card added two goals and two assists while Andrew Watt and Jordan MacIntosh each scored twice. Goaltenders Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson combined for 42 saves in the loss.
The Stealth will be back in action next weekend when the team travels to Calgary to take on the 8-3 Roughnecks. That game is scheduled to begin at 6:00pm PST and can be seen on the NLL Network at NLL.com.