The Washington Stealth moved one step closer to becoming the first team in the National Lacrosse League to clinch a playoff berth with a 15-14 victory over the Colorado Mammoth tonight. The two teams will play again tomorrow night for the “Pink in the Rink Night” to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure at the Comcast Arena at Everett.
The pace of the game was tremendous from the start. With constant end-to-end action, the Stealth tallied the first goal of the game five minutes in, thanks to a strong individual effort from Luke Wiles. It took nearly five minutes for Colorado to even the score on an Alex Gajic goal from long range. The teams continued to go back and forth, both Wiles and Gajic scoring twice, as the first quarter ended in a 3-3 tie.
It didn’t take long for the scoring to start in the second, as Lewis Ratcliff put the Stealth in front with a shorthanded goal just 30 seconds into the frame. But three straight goals from the Mammoth made it 6-4 with 10:52 left in the first half. Two goals from Brian Langtry and the third of the game from Gajic left the Mammoth up 8-5 at the break.
Coming into the game, the Stealth was glad to have three of their primary defensemen back in Kyle Sorensen, Mike Grimes and Matt Beers. But Head Coach Chris Hall was not satisfied with the defensive effort in the first half. “We made seven or eight fundamental mistakes in the first half,” said Hall. “I was pretty disappointed and I let them know in the locker room.”
The Stealth responded to their coach in the third quarter, outscoring the Mammoth 8-3. After Gajic tallied his fourth goal of the game, the Stealth rattled off four straight to tie the score at nine. As the teams went back and forth for the remainder of the quarter, Ratcliff tallied three more to give the Stealth a 13-11 edge going into the final stanza.
“We got called out after the first half,” said Ratcliff, who earned the game’s MVP honors with five goals and an assist on the night. “ We were fired up in the third and scored eight on them.”
Despite having all the momentum going into the fourth, it wasn’t easy for the Stealth to finish out the game. Joel Dalgarno, who scored his first career NLL goal in the first quarter, scored his second of the night five minutes into the fourth quarter to extend the Stealth lead to 14-11. But Colorado answered with a goal on the ensuing face-off to cut the deficit to two.
With two minutes left in regulation, Jed Prossner scored for the Mammoth to make it 14-13, but Jeff Zywicki put the Stealth back up by two with 1:35 remaining. With 25 seconds left, an illegal substitution penalty by the Stealth gave the Mammoth a penalty shot and a chance to cut the lead to one. Gajic completed his sock trick (six goals in one game) with the penalty shot that beat Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards.
Colorado pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker for the rest of the game, but Richards and the Stealth defense were able to hold on, taking the 15-14 victory.
“We found ourselves in the second half,” said Hall after the game. “ We got ahead and did a good job to hold on. I’m proud of the way the guys dug themselves out of that first half hole.”
Ratcliff paced the Stealth with six points on five goals and an assist. Wiles had two goals and five assists, while Zywicki and Cam Sedgwick each tallies two and two. Paul Rabil was credited with four assists.
On the defensive end, Grimes finished with a game-high 12 loose balls. Richards picked up his fourth win of the season with 33 saves.
Gajic led all scorers with six goals and added an assist for the Mammoth. Brian Langtry finished with three goals and four assists. Nick Carlson had a game-high six assists. Colorado netminder Andrew Leyshon made 24 saves in the loss.
“It was a good win to keep ourselves ahead of the pack so we can play at home in the playoffs,” said Hall. “But we need to rest up and hydrate tonight, because tomorrow will be no different from tonight.”
The two teams will meet up again tomorrow, as the Mammoth comes to town for “Pink in the Rink Night” at the Comcast Arena. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:30pm PST. Tickets start at just $13 and are available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stelathlax.com.