The Washington Stealth will have an opportunity to clinch a West Division Title and the number one overall seed in the National Lacrosse League playoffs tomorrow night when they take on the Edmonton Rush at the Comcast Arena at Everett. It will be the third meeting between the teams this season, with the home team winning both games.
The Stealth (10-4) is coming off arguably their best performance of the season, a 17-7 rout of the East Division’s top team, Orlando Titans in Florida last week. Reigning Offensive Player of the Week Rhys Duch scored a game-high nine points on three goals and six assists to lead all scorers. Stealth goaltender Matt Roik earned the Defensive Player of the Week honors with 34 saves to improve his record to a league-best 6-0. But despite holding the NLL’s best record, Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall isn’t letting his team get complacent.
“We have had a great season so far,” he said. “But I don’t know if you can ever take a breath in this league. We have more work to do so we can lock up the division and be at home throughout the playoffs.”
The team standing in the way of home floor advantage for the Stealth is an Edmonton Rush team that beat the Stealth, 14-13 in overtime in their last meeting just two weeks ago. It was a game that saw 20 first half goals between the teams. The Rush were led by NLL veterans Gavin Prout and Ryan Powell, who scored three goals and four assists apiece back on April 2 in Edmonton. Hall expects the Stealth defense to perform better this time around.
“We weren’t happy with our defensive performance in Edmonton last time,” said Hall. “We challenged the guys to be better in Orlando and they responded. Things change in this league from week to week, so we are looking to build on the momentum we gained last week.”
The Rush lost 15-14 in overtime to the Calgary Roughnecks tonight to fall to 9-6 on the season and 1.5 games behind the Stealth for first place in the West Division. A win over the Stealth would keep Edmonton alive in the West Division title race going into the final weekend.
The Stealth lineup could get stronger this weekend, with the possibility of two players returning. Forward Jeff Zywicki, who has missed the last two games with a lower body strain, could return this week. Zywicki has 68 points this season and was the Stealth’s top scorer before his injury. But the Stealth offense hasn’t missed a beat in his absence, scoring 30 goals in two games.
“We are being careful with Jeff (Zywicki),” said Hall prior to practice this week. “But after two weeks of rest, he should be good to go this weekend.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Stealth is hoping to insert Tyler Codron into the lineup for the first time this season. Widely regarded as one of the league’s best on-ball defenders, Codron was acquired by the Stealth prior to the start of the season as part of the trade that sent Colin Doyle to Toronto.
Another player involved in that trade, Lewis Ratcliff, has been on a tear of late, scoring 18 goals and 12 assists in the last four games and catapulting himself into the mix as a MVP candidate. He leads the Stealth’s top-ranked offense with 81 points (39g, 42a) this season.
The Washington Stealth and the Edmonton Rush square off at the Comcast Arena at 7:30pm PST on April 17. Tickets start at just $13 and are available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.