The Washington Stealth clinched a playoff berth last weekend and currently sits in second place in the National Lacrosse League West Division. With four games left in the regular season, the Stealth still has work to do to ensure they host a first round playoff game and a pair of wins this weekend would go a long way. It will be no easy task however, as they face the East Division’s top two teams, the Toronto Rock (9-3) and Buffalo Bandits (8-3), on the road this weekend.
“We have to string some wins together,” said Stealth forward Rhys Duch, whose last-second goal in last week’s 9-8 win over the Boston Blazers clinched the Stealth’s fifth straight trip to the NLL postseason. “We’ve had a bit of a bad habit of getting too complacent after a big win and not playing like we should the next game. We need to stay focused and come out firing every night from here on out.”
The Stealth will have to come out firing in both games this weekend, especially on the road against the top two home teams in the NLL. The Rock (6-0 at home) and Bandits (4-1) are a combined 10-1 in their home arenas this season. Both the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the HSBC Arena in Buffalo are considered two of the top venues in the NLL, with large, hostile crowds that will provide intense, playoff-like atmospheres.
“You want to play in games like these against the top teams in the league,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “It will certainly be a test, but it gives us a chance to build some momentum heading into the playoffs.”
The Stealth has won three of its last four games, due in large part to the play of goaltender Tyler Richards and the Stealth defense. In those three wins, the team has allowed just over eight goals per game, nearly four goals fewer than its season average (11.9g/gm). Richards has posted a .833 save percentage in those games, raising his percentage to .791 on the year, third in the NLL.
The Stealth defense will need to continue its recent success on Friday night, as it faces a potent Toronto Rock offense that is averaging 11.75 goals per game. The Rock has four 50-point scorers on its roster, led by super sophomore Stephan Leblanc with 65 points (28g, 37a).
The Rock defense is also among the NLL’s best, led by goaltender Bob Watson who currently leads the league in save percentage (.804) and is third in goals against average (9.44).
It doesn’t get any easier on Saturday when the Stealth’s top-ranked offense will face the league’s top defense in Buffalo. Led by Lewis Ratcliff with 67 points (27g, 40a) and Duch with 63 points (30g, 33a), the Stealth offense is averaging 12.9 goals per game and will need to be on point to get the best of Buffalo’s goaltender of the year candidate Mike Thompson. Thompson is second in the NLL in both save percentage (.792) and goals against average (9.26).
The Stealth will face the Toronto Rock at the Air Canada Centre on Friday, April 1 at 4:30pm Pacific. The game will be aired live on TSN in Canada and rebroadcast Saturday in the U.S. on Versus at 11am Pacific. The following night the Stealth travels to HSBC Arena to face the Buffalo Bandits at 4:30pm Pacific. That game can be seen live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.