The National Lacrosse League made its debut at KeyArena in Seattle, Wash., tonight, and the West Division Final between the Washington Stealth and Edmonton Rush did not disappoint. It took just eight seconds into the overtime period for Stealth transition player Paul Rabil to net the game-winning goal, propelling his team to the Champion’s Cup Final with a 12-11 victory over the Edmonton Rush.
The Stealth and the Rush played three times during the regular season, the last two decided by one goal in favor of the Rush. Tonight, the Stealth exacted their revenge.
Washington got off to a hot start, taking a 4-1 advantage in the first quarter. Rabil opened the scoring 3:39 into the game. Luke Wiles scored two of his three goals on the night in the first stanza and Jeff Zywicki, who had a hat trick of his own in the game, added the team’s fourth first quarter goal.
The Stealth kept it going in the second, with Cam Sedgwick and Rabil scoring goals to make it 6-1. But the Rush, playing in the first Divisional Final in team history, would not go quietly. They scored three unanswered goals to cut the Stealth lead to two with 1:46 left in the half. Twenty seconds later, Rhys Duch scored his first of the night for the Stealth, and they took a 7-4 lead into the locker room at the break. Stealth goaltender made 21 of his 35 saves in the first half.
The Rush scored twice to open the third to make it 7-6, but once again the Stealth had the answer, as goals from Zywicki and Duch in the final four minutes of the quarter regained the three-goal advantage for the Stealth.
The teams traded goals to start the fourth, with Wiles’ third goal of the night making it 11-8 in favor of the Stealth with 7:37 left in regulation. Rush MVP candidate Brodie Merrill scored at the 3:39 mark to make it 11-9, setting the scene for an incredible finish to regulation.
The Rush pulled their goalie for the extra attacker in the final two minutes of the game. The move paid off, and with 55 seconds left, Corey Small scored for the Rush to pull them within one. They added the tying goal with just 20 seconds left, when Andy Secore squeaked one by Richards. The final 20 seconds was a constant scramble, and the buzzer sounded to end regulation with the score tied at 11.
“I thought we were a little unlucky in the last four minutes,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “We talked at halftime about it getting scrappy and intense down the stretch. We managed to stay poised and battle through it.”
The overtime period lasted just eight seconds, as Stealth face-off man Jamison Koesterer, who won 14-of-27 draws on the night, won the biggest face-off of his NLL career. The ball went straight to Rabil, who beat a defender and then Rush goaltender Matt Disher to the delight of the KeyArena crowd.
“I wouldn’t normally go straight to the net,” said Rabil, who has taken on a more defensive-minded role with the team in his second NLL season. “But I had a head of steam and got a step on the defender, so I went for it.”
Hall was glad to see that it was Rabil with the ball on his stick in that situation. “We all saw Paul one-on-one with his defender, and no help coming,” he said. “And he is capable of beating anyone in the game of lacrosse one-on-one. Great players do great things. He’s a great player and he did a great thing.”
Rabil earned MVP honors with his three goals and added an assist and a team-high 11 loose balls. Zywicki had a team-high five points on three goals and two assists. Wiles finished with three goals and an assist and Lewis Ratcliff was credited with four assists.
Edmonton was 6-1 in one-goal games going into tonight’s game. Two of those wins came against the Stealth. The Rush was led by Ryan Ward with six points on two goals and four assists. Gavin Prout finished with two and three. Disher made 44 saves in the loss.
The Stealth moves on to the Champion’s Cup Final, where they will face East Division Champion Toronto Rock. The game will take place on May 15 at 7:30pm at the Comcast Arena at Everett. Tickets are available now and can be purchased by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.