EVERETT, Wash. – With an eye to the post-season, the Washington Stealth built and sustained a lead over Calgary for just over 54 minutes of Saturday’s NLL contest, but ultimately ran into a foe crueler than its West Division rival – itself, falling to the Roughnecks 13-11 before 4,727 on “Pink in the Rink” night Everett’s Comcast Arena.
Needing just a single win to clinch its third playoff berth in four years, the Stealth stumbled with a two-goal lead with 7:16 remaining in the game when goaltender Tyler Richards was whistled for a five-minute high sticking major after toppling over the back of Dane Dobbie as the Roughnecks forward drove through the crease.
“It all happened pretty quickly,” Richards said. “But from what I recall, Dobbie took a shot to my right side and followed the shot through so I was just protecting myself.”
Down a man and with backup keeper Matt Roik now in goal, the Stealth gave up three straight power-play scores in just under two minutes, including a single by Curtis Dickson, and two by Dobbie to surrender the lead for good.
By rule, with Richards still in the box, the Stealth came back to full strength after giving up a third goal during a major-penalty powerplay. But Greg Harnett continued the run, hitting the Roughnecks’ fourth straight to all but end the game.
“It was a game changing play, no doubt about that,” said Stealth coach Chris Hall who had talked to his squad earlier about maintaining poise and the emotions of a game with playoff implications.
“We really earned where we were late in the game,” said Hall whose squad outshot the Roughnecks 29-20 in the first half before settling in to a 50-46 shooting advantage while building four separate two-goal leads.
“The effort we brought tonight was outstanding,” he said. “It’s just awfully frustrating in a hard-fought, well-played game to get a good two-goal lead late in the game, then give it away.”
With the loss, the Stealth evened their season-series with the Calgary squad and slipped to 7-6 on the season — a full game behind the Roughnecks and Edmonton, which now share the division lead with just three games remaining. Minnesota, which lost to Philadelphia on Friday, trails the Stealth by a game-and-a half, while Colorado, despite its win Saturday over the Wings, is on the bottom, two back of the Stealth.
Winning three straight for a 7-4 West-leading record in mid March, the loss is the second straight for the Stealth who still need just a win to clinch a post-season berth.
Washington opened scoring on a Dean Hill goal at 13:19 of the first, but was quickly answered by the Roughnecks Curtis Dickson who scored the first of his four on the night just 3:15 later.
The two battled through the first with Calgary moving ahead to a 3-2 lead on Dickson’s second of the night with 4:24 remaining before Mitch Jones tied it at 3-3. It was Jones’ first career NLL goal after being called up just two weeks ago for the Minnesota game. Jones added an assist to finish the night with two points.
“I know to go to the net hard and things are going to happen,” said Jones who capitalized on a fast break by Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen. “I got a great bounce and put my first one away.”
In the second, the Stealth moved out to a narrow 5-4 lead on goals by Sorensen and Rhys Duch. Sorensen’s goal just 35 seconds into the quarter came after Richards hit the defender on a floor-length pass for a one-on-one showdown with Roughnecks goaltender Mike Poulin.
Trading goals in the third, the Stealth again opened up two-goal leads on scores by Ratcliff at 10:05 and Tyler Garrison at 6:00.
But in the fourth, Calgary found momentum with Dickson scoring on a power play just over two minutes in to the quarter to knot the game at 7-7 and Dobbie getting the go-ahead goal just 17 seconds later with assists from Geoff Snider and Scott Ranger.
The Roughnecks’ lead was short-lived as Bucktooth ignited a three-goal run that would ultimately give the Stealth another two-score advantage at 10-8 before stumbling.
In the end, Hill brought the game within one with 1:10 to go, but with the Stealth goal empty in favor of an extra attacker, Roughnecks forward Jeff Shattler converted an empty-net score with two seconds remaining to seal the win.
Ratcliff led the Stealth in scoring with two goals and three assists on 11 shots. Bucktooth finished the night with two goals and two assists on six shots, while Duch tallied a single goal and four assists on nine shots.
For the Roughnecks, Dickson had four goals, while Dane Dobbie had three goals and two assists for five points.
Bob Snider was 14 of 28 in the face-off circle for the Stealth, while his brother Geoff won 12 of 25 for the Roughnecks.
The Stealth are on the road next Saturday, April 6 for the rubber-match of its season series with Calgary. Game time at the Scotiabank Saddle Dome is 6 p.m. PDT.
Following Saturday’s matchup with the Roughnecks, the Stealth return home to Comcast Arena for the final two games of the regular season. On Saturday, April 13, the Stealth take on the Buffalo Bandits and on Saturday, April 20 meet-up with the Philadelphia Wings. Game time for both contests is 6:45 p.m. PDT.
Scoring 1 2 3 4 F
Calgary 3 1 2 7 — 13
Washington 3 2 2 4 — 11
Around the NLL
Friday, March 29
Buffalo 11, Toronto 18
Philadelphia 11, Minnesota 20
Saturday, March 30
Toronto 8, Rochester 12
Philadelphia 9, Colorado 10
Calgary 13, Washington 11