For the second time in as many nights, the Washington Stealth took one of the top teams in the National Lacrosse League to overtime. But this time, the Stealth came out on the winning side, as forward Cam Sedgwick scored the game-winner just over five minutes into the overtime period to take home the 10-9 victory over the Buffalo Bandits.
The Stealth, who lost in overtime the previous night to the Toronto Rock, overcame a shaky start in the first quarter to improve its record to 7-7 on the season and remain in second place in the NLL’s West Division. Buffalo remains in second place in the East, but falls to 8-4.
Rhys Duch opened the scoring for the Stealth less than a minute into the game. But Buffalo responded with four straight goals to take a commanding 4-1 lead midway through the first quarter. The teams each added one more in the quarter as the Bandits held a three-goal advantage after the first fifteen minutes.
The Stealth got back into the game in the second quarter, due in large part to the play of goaltender Matt Roik, who got the start for the first time since January 14. Roik shut out the Bandits’ offense in the second frame, making 15 saves in the process.
“There were some cobwebs there in the first quarter,” admitted Roik after the game. “But we got settled down and I started seeing the ball better. Coach Hall and the boys showed confidence in me and we really came together as a team.”
The Stealth offense capitalized on Roik’s play, tying the game with three goals in the second quarter. Craig Conn, Lewis Ratcliff and Cliff Smith all found the back of the net to draw even before the first half came to a close. The Stealth penalty kill unit stymied a Bandits 5-on-3 advantage to keep the score knotted at five.
Buffalo regained the lead 2:40 into the third quarter on a goal from Tracey Kelusky, but the Stealth answered. Ratcliff scored a power play goal to tie it up and Duch followed that with his second of the night to give the Stealth its first lead of the game, 7-6 with just over seven minutes to play in the third. Buffalo tied it once again in the closing seconds of the quarter to send the game to the fourth quarter tied at seven.
The Bandits scored back-to-back goals in the fourth to take a 9-7 lead with eight minutes left in regulation. Once again the Stealth found the answer with a power play goal from Luke Wiles a minute and a half later. The Stealth’s league-leading power play unit went 3-for-4 in the game.
For the next six minutes, the teams battled without a goal. With 30 seconds left in regulation, Roik stoned a Bandits player alone in front to keep the Stealth within one. The play resulted in a fast break for the Stealth, where transition player Paul Rabil executed a perfect two-on-one fast break and found a streaking Duch who buried his third goal of the game to tie it up at nine with just 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
“They made a bit of a mental error at the end of regulation,” said Duch, referring to the Bandits’ quick shot with over 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock and 30 seconds left in the game. “Rabil moved the ball up the floor quickly and gave me the ball where I could handle it.”
It took five minutes in the overtime period for one team to find the game-winner. It was Sedgwick, on the receiving end of great ball movement from Duch and Rabil, rifling a shot past Buffalo goaltender Angus Goodleaf to send the Stealth home with a dramatic 10-9 victory.
Duch earned the game’s MVP honors with a three-goal, four-assist night. Ratcliff also recorded a hat-trick and added an assist as he takes over the NLL lead with 77 points this season. Rabil was credited with four assists and six loose balls. Bob Snider went 16-for-22 at the face-off circle.
After making only five saves in the first quarter, Roik settled down and had a monster game, recording 48 saves in the game and allowing just four goals in the final three quarters.
“Roik really stepped up for us,” said Duch. “He kept us in the game and gave us the chance to win with some great saves in overtime. He earned the right to be called MVP in this one.”
The Bandits were led by John Tavares with a goal and five assists. Kelusky added two goals and two assists and Brenden Thenhaus finished with a hat trick. Goodleaf made 46 saves in the loss.
For the Stealth, the win keeps the squad a half-game ahead of the Minnesota Swarm for second place in the West. They finished this weekend’s back-to-back against the top two teams in the East 1-1, having suffered a tough overtime loss to the Toronto Rock last night.
“We played well enough to win both games this weekend,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “I think we deserved better last night, but we showed a tremendous amount of heart, grit and character to come out and battle a tough Buffalo team like we did. I’m very proud of the way we hung in there and I think we really showed the character of a champion.”
The Stealth returns to action on April 9 at the Comcast Arena to take on the Minnesota Swarm. It’s “Pink in the Rink”, with a Stealth helmet auction taking place with proceeds benefiting the Puget Sound Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Tickets for that game start at just $13 and are available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.