The Washington Stealth is just two wins away from being the first team to repeat as National Lacrosse League Champion since 2003. It will be no easy task however, as the Stealth must first get past the top overall seed in the 2011 playoffs, the Calgary Roughnecks. The Western Division Final will take place Saturday, May 7 at 6:30pm at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.
The Stealth and Roughnecks are familiar foes. In three meetings this season, the Roughnecks held a 2-1 edge, including a 17-13 victory in the most recent meeting on March 13 at the Comcast Arena. The road team won each game of the season series. Saturday’s contest is expected to be another high-scoring affair; the league’s top two offenses combined to average a combined 29 goals per game in the three games against one another.
Washington is appearing in its third straight Western Division Final thanks to a 14-8 victory over the Minnesota Swarm last weekend. The Stealth offense continued the torrid pace it set during a regular season in which it averaged 12.69 goals per game. Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff continued to lead the offensive unit against the Swarm with seven (3g, 4a) and six points (3g, 3a), respectively. Ratcliff finished the regular season second in the NLL with 92 points (41g, 51a) while Duch was just one spot behind with 90 points (42g, 48a).
The big addition to the Stealth offense last weekend was right-handed forward Jeff Zywicki, who returned to the lineup last weekend after an injury-riddled regular season in which he played just three games. Zywicki contributed with two goals and two assists in last weekend’s victory.
“It was great to have Zywicki back in our lineup,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “He adds another dynamic to our offense and really acts as a coach on the floor for us.”
While the offense continued its stellar play, it was the play of the Stealth defense that made a huge difference in the West Semifinal victory last weekend. After entering the playoffs with the ninth-ranked defense in the NLL, the Stealth allowed just eight goals to the NLL’s third-ranked offense, including just three goals in the final 45 minutes of the game. Goaltender Tyler Richards made 27 of his 40 saves in the second half, shutting out the Swarm offense for the entire fourth quarter.
This week, Richards and the Stealth defense will have the unenviable task of trying to slow down the Roughnecks offense, which finished second in the NLL during the regular season averaging 12.38 goals per game. Jeff Shattler and Dane Dobbie led the offensive charge throughout the regular season, posting 75 points apiece. Three other Roughnecks tallied 50-plus points during the regular season: Scott Ranger (61), Kaleb Toth (53) and Rookie of the Year candidate Curtis Dickson (52).
The Roughnecks offense was held well below its regular season goals average in last weekend’s victory over the Colorado Mammoth in the West Semifinals. Calgary managed just ten goals, but a strong defensive effort held the Mammoth to six goals. Goaltender Mike Poulin made 43 saves in the game, including a 14-save second quarter in which he allowed no goals. Poulin finished the regular season with an 11.03 goals against average and .765 save percentage.
The matchup will pit the last two NLL Champions against one another, Calgary hoisting the Champion’s Cup in 2009 and the Stealth winning it all a season ago. Both teams know what it takes to advance, adding even more intensity to the single-elimination format of the NLL playoffs.
“Obviously there will be a little more tension between the sides with everything that’s on the line,” said Hall, who won his first NLL title as the Head Coach of the Roughnecks in 2004. “You have to look at yourself and worry about playing your best, not necessarily what the other team is doing.”
The National Lacrosse League Western Division Final between the Washington Stealth and Calgary Roughnecks will take place at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday, May 7 at 6:30pm. The game can be watched live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.