EVERETT, Wash. – With a post-season berth in its back pocket and needing just a single win in its NLL season finale to secure a home playoff date next weekend, the Washington Stealth are looking for a victory against the Eastern Division Philadelphia Wings, Saturday night to embark on its quest for a second NLL championship.
Game time for the NLL contest at Everett’s Comcast Arena is 6:45 p.m.
A win against the 7-8 Wings in their first-ever visit to Comcast Arena would not just give the Stealth a season sweep of the Philadelphia club, but secure its first home playoff game since winning the NLL Championship at home in 2010.
Knowing what it has to do to bring the NLL playoffs back to Everett, Stealth head coach Chris Hall is looking for his team to bring its “A” game against a Philadelphia team that has an opportunity to lock in its own home playoff game.
“We’ve got to start gearing up for the playoffs which are going to start next week,” said Hall who is looking to guide the Stealth to its third championship game in the last four years.
“To play at home would be great and we’ll be working as hard as we possibly can to do that,” he said.
Even without a win, the Stealth at 8-7 could earn a first-round home playoff game with losses by both the Calgary Roughnecks and Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night.
On paper, Washington holds a decisive advantage over the Wings both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. But on Saturday, the Stealth look to translate advantage to action on the floor.
A porous a Wings defense ranking third-to-last in the NLL this season, surrendering more than twelve-and-a-half goals every game is an opportunity for the Stealth top guns.
To capitalize, the Stealth will turn to NLL goals leader Rhys Duch.
On top of the NLL with 41 goals, Duch is hoping to secure the first regular season NLL scoring title of his career. The Victoria, British Columbia native leads Colorado’s John Grant Jr. and Calgary’s Dane Dobbie and Curtis Dickson by just a single score heading into the final week of regular-season play.
The Stealth will also look to Lewis Ratcliff to find the net on Saturday. Last weekend the 6-1, 200-pound lefty finished the game with a team-high four assists while adding a highlight-real goal in the first quarter.
Coming into Saturday’s finale, the Wings will have to get by a smothering Stealth defense, ranked fourth in the NLL, that is backed Washington’s big stopper in goaltender Tyler Richards.
Allowing just 10.75 goals-per-game, Richards will face a Wings offense already struggling on its own to produce more than 10.5 goals-per-game.
In their first meeting on March 9, the Stealth held the Wings to 10 goals and appears to match up well with the struggling Wings offense holding the league’s fourth-best defense. Washington holds a 9-4 all time edge over the Wings.
Although the matchup is favored on the stat sheet, Hall and his team pay little attention to the numbers in a highly competitive league with very little difference between first and worst.
“Every coach in this league says it, and the players know it, but there’s very little that separates the top from the bottom,” Hall said.
“The (regular season) league champion is going to be at 10-6 which is not earth shattering. The bottom team in the league has six wins so there’s very little to separate teams,” Hall said. “Probably more than every other year.”
One bright spot for the Philadelphia Wings offense has been the play of Kevin Crowley who leads the Wings with 32 goals and 37 assists in 2013.
But even with Crowley’s output, the Stealth have figured out an answer, holding the Wings’ leading scorer out of the goal column in their 16-10 win on March 9 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
The Stealth also have its eye on Drew Westervelt who is another dangerous weapon for the Wings offense scoring 27 goals while adding 28 assists this season.
One of the key matchups for Saturday’s game will be the battle between Richards and his Wings goaltending counterpart Brandon Miller a former Stealth goaltender from 2001-05. Both rank in the top five in saves in 2013 with Richards holding-down fourth with 541, while Miller trails by just one.
Richards will be anxious to get back on the floor after a rare off-game last weekend for the Coquitlam, British Columbia native where he gave up 13 goals on 40 Buffalo shots.
“I don’t think we got the game out of Tyler Richards that we usually get,” said Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen. “ He’s usually there to bail us out but the guy’s only human. He’s not going to play 16-19 perfect games.”
Even with its on-floor advantage, the Stealth will need to keep emotions in check to keep momentum on its side.
When these teams last met, emotions ran wild in the later stages of the game that saw 115 combined penalty minutes aided by a line-brawl at the 13:48 mark of the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think (emotions carry over) they need a win and so do we,” Sorensen said. “We’re looking to build towards the playoffs and put a good game together.”
The Stealth will wipe the slate clean next weekend when it begins its quest to the 2013 Champions Cup against either the Edmonton Rush or Calgary Roughnecks in the first round of the 2013 NLL playoffs.
A win on Saturday or additional good fortune by way of Calgary and Minnesota losses will put the Stealth back at Comcast Arena next Saturday, April 27 for the opening playoff round en-route to what the team hopes is a third trip to the NLL title game in four years.
Tickets to Saturday’s Stealth-Philadelphia game are still available. Visit www.stealthlax.com or call 877-MY-75-TIX… Washington Stealth… It’s like hockey with balls.
NLL WEEK 16
Game: Buffalo Bandits (7-8) at Washington Stealth (8-7)
Date: Saturday, April 20, 2013
Time: 6:45 p.m. PDT
Location: Comcast Arena- Everett, Wash.
Webcast: The NLL on YouTube on The Lacrosse Network available at www.stealthlax.com
Head coach Chris Hall will appear in his 152nd game as a head coach Saturday night passing Paul Day to move into sole possession of third all-time in NLL history.
With a win tonight, the Stealth would finish the season with a 3-2 record against opponents from the NLL East after earning victories against the defending NLL Champion Rochester Knighthawks as well as the Philadelphia Wings earlier this season. Since moving to the state of Washington the Stealth are 9-9 in cross-divisional games.
Tyler Richards and Rhys Duch are putting the finishing touches on career years in 2013 for the Stealth. Duch is one goal shy of tying his career high goals mark of 42 set in 2011 and is well within reach of posting the third best single season goal total in franchise history needing only three goals to tie the mark.
Richards has already set a new career high for saves in a season currently at 541 which would be good enough for the third highest single season total in team history. With 31 saves in Saturday’s game the Washington net minder would finish with the second highest single season total in team history.
At Saturday’s game the Washington Stealth with the help of the Dwayne Lane Family of Auto Centers in Everett and Arlington, Washington will be giving away a brand new 2013 Chrysler 200 to a lucky fan in attendance.