There are many things that can provide motivation for a team. Exacting revenge for a previous loss. A genuine dislike for an opposing team. A storied rivalry. But on May 8 at 7:30pm at KeyArena in Seattle, Wash., the only motivation needed for the Washington Stealth and Edmonton Rush is the simple fact that a win means a trip to the National Lacrosse League Champion’s Cup Final.
Both teams enter the West Division Finals coming off hard-fought wins in the Divisional Semifinals. The top-seeded Stealth (11-5 during the regular season) eliminated the four-seed Minnesota Swarm 14-10 at the Comcast Arena at Everett. Rhys Duch earned game MVP honors with an 11-point performance on six goals and five assists.
The third seeded Edmonton Rush, who finished one game behind the Stealth in the regular season at 10-6, downed archrival and defending NLL Champion Calgary Roughnecks by a score of 11-7 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.
Those victories set up this weekend’s match-up for the West Division crown. The Stealth and the Rush faced each other three times during the regular season, with Edmonton edging the Stealth two of those three battles. Both Rush wins were by a one-goal margin. The Stealth’s lone win came in week two, when Washington dominated a Rush team trying to find their identity.
Since then, Edmonton certainly has found their identity, and Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall is well aware that the last two meetings between the teams are more indicative of the type of game that will take place Saturday night.
“In that first game, we were playing well early and they were still a work in progress,” says Hall. “But we knew from the start of the season that this was a dangerous Edmonton roster. They deserve to be where they are.”
Despite the two losses to the Rush in the regular season, Hall insists that payback is not a factor in his team’s mindset going into the game.
“We aren’t looking for revenge, we are looking to win,” he says. “Obviously the two losses hurt, but what they did was give us a better understanding that the Rush is a very good lacrosse team. It’s win or go home. That should be motivation enough.”
The Stealth will rely on the facets of their game that have created success for them all season long. The Stealth’s offense was tops in the league during the regular season, averaging over 13 goals per game. MVP candidate Lewis Ratlciff led the charge, scoring a league-high 46 goals and finishing second in the NLL with 97 points. In the last two games, Ratcliff took on the role of playmaker and Duch picked up the scoring with 12 goals and eight assists in his last two games. Duch finished the regular season with 86 points (33g, 53a).
“The play of Rhys Duch hasn’t been much different than last year,” says Hall about the 2009 Rookie of the Year. “He is a fantastic lacrosse player and his performance the last two weeks was just further indication of that.”
It is no secret around the league that the Rush’s strengths revolve around the transition game. Perennial All-Pro and NLL April Player of the Month Brodie Merrill has led the Edmonton transition all season long, recording 53 points (17g, 36a) and 190 loose balls. “I may be a bit biased here, but Brodie is the Most Valuable Player in the league,” says Rush Head Coach Derek Keenan.
Hall and the Stealth are well aware of the Rush’s aptitude to run the floor. “Merrill is a force and he leads their formidable transition game,” Hall says. “One of their greatest strengths is creating offense out of the defensive end.”
While the teams will come into the game prepared to play through extensive film research and by drawing on their experiences against one another in the regular season, the bottom line is that the NLL playoffs bring things to the next level.
“In this league, every game is intense,” says Hall. “But this is a championship game. It becomes a natural war of great teams playing great teams and whenever you have that, you will have the feel of a rivalry and the intensity and pressure increase.”
The Washington Stealth and the Edmonton Rush will play for the National Lacrosse League West Division Championship on Saturday, May 8th at 7:30pm at KeyArena in Seattle, Wash. Tickets start at just $18 and are available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.