The Washington Stealth overcame a slow start, but despite holding the Toronto Rock to just one second half goal, the Stealth fell 8-7 in the 2011 National Lacrosse League Championship Game in front of 14,488 fans at the Air Canada Centre. Goaltender Tyler Richards kept the Stealth in the game with 30 of his 50 saves in the first half.
In each of the first two rounds of the 2011 playoffs, the Stealth fell behind early. That trend continued today against the Toronto Rock as the Stealth trailed 3-1 at the end of the first quarter and 7-2 at the halftime break. But unlike those previous playoff games, the five-goal halftime deficit proved to be a hole too deep for the Stealth to recover.
“We didn’t do a good job with loose balls and turnovers in the first half,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall, whose team was attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back NLL Championships since 2003. “They got some miraculous saves from [Rock goaltender] Bob Watson that allowed them to extend their lead in the second quarter.”
Watson was named the game’s MVP as he held the Stealth offense, which finished the regular season as the league’s top-ranked offense, to just seven goals. He made 46 saves in the final game of his 15-year NLL career.
While Watson was credited with the win and the MVP hardware, his counterpart on the Stealth, Tyler Richards, was responsible for keeping the Stealth in the game, making 50 saves in the loss. In a first half where the Stealth was out shot 37-23 by the Rock, Richards made 30 saves.
Cliff Smith tallied the lone Stealth goal in the first quarter and Lewis Ratcliff scored the first of his three goals in the game in the second frame. The Rock got a pair of first half goals from both Kasey Beirnes and Garrett Billings as they took a five-goal lead at halftime.
A year ago, the Stealth fought back from a four-goal deficit in the third quarter to beat the Rock for the NLL Championship, the largest comeback in the 25-year history of the NLL Championship Game. They fell just short in their attempt to break their own record, due in large part to the play of Richards and the improved second half play of the Stealth defense.
The Rock failed to score a goal in the third quarter, the Stealth defense holding them to just eight shots. They would score just one in the final stanza, a goal by Stephen Leblanc that would prove to be the game winner seven minutes into the fourth.
The Stealth opened the third with a goal by Rhys Duch just over a minute into the quarter to make it 7-3. A pair of Rock penalties gave the Stealth a five-on-three power play and a chance to cut even further into the lead, but the Rock penalty kill held strong. The Stealth power play went just 1-for-4 in the game. Ratcliff would add another goal at the end of the quarter to make it 7-4 going into the final 15 minutes.
Ratcliff and Jeff Zywicki each scored goals in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to get the Stealth within one goal early in the fourth. Two minutes later, Leblanc scored the lone second half goal for the Rock to regain the two-goal edge. But on the ensuing possession, Paul Rabil made it 8-7 with a rocket of a shot from the outside that put both the ball and Watson into the net.
From there, the defenses held strong and the goaltenders continued their dominance. Watson made 13 fourth quarter saves while Richards was credited with 12. With 32.5 seconds remaining in regulation, the Stealth bulled Richards for an extra attacker, but failed to get off a shot, turning the ball over to the Rock which ran out the clock to win the 2011 NLL championship on its home floor.
“Everyone stepped up in the second half,” said Stealth Captain Jason Bloom. “We just ran out of time. If we had a few more minutes, I think we could have pulled it out.”
Ratcliff led all goal scorers with three goals and added an assist. Duch finished with a goal and three assists. Rabil, Zywicki and Smith rounded out the Stealth scoring with a goal apiece. Cam Sedgwick was credited with three assists.
Stealth face-off man Bob Snider, who led the NLL during the regular season winning over 71% of his draws, went 11-for-19 at the face-off circle. Defenseman Mike Grimes collected a game-high 11 loose balls.
The Rock was led offensively by Kasey Beirnes, who tallied two goals and two assists. Billings also recorded a pair of goals and added an assist.
“There’s very little difference between the top and the bottom in this league,” said Hall about the Stealth season. “We played well all year, we just wanted to be healthy going into the playoffs. I was confident that we would be here once we got healthy. Only one team ends its season with a win, and unfortunately it wasn’t us this year. I’m proud of the way our guys fought through adversity all season long. We are a young team and we have the pieces in place; I expect we’ll be in the thick of it again next season.”
The Stealth ends its season with a 10-9 record and its second straight Western Division Championship.