The Washington Stealth has a chance to clinch a home game in the first round of the National Lacrosse League playoffs tomorrow night at the Comcast Arena at Everett. The only obstacle: a Rochester Knighthawks squad that’s won three of its last four games.
The Stealth has been playing well of late, winning four of its last six games. But it has been no easy task as the Stealth have been to overtime in each of its last three games, most recently a 16-15 win over the Minnesota Swarm last weekend. The Stealth has a home playoff game in its sights, and playing in the friendly confines of the Comcast Arena is something Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall wants badly.
“We would really love to be playing at home come playoff time,” said Hall. “The comfort of playing at home is a big advantage and our growing fan base is a big help with their passion and enthusiasm. They really provide us with a lot of energy.”
The Knighthawks have secured third place in the East Division, regardless of the results of its two remaining games. But despite Rochester’s inability to move up in the standings, the Stealth can’t rest on the hope that the team has little for which to play.
“They don’t have any pressure on them, and that makes for a dangerous team,” added Hall. “Teams with little pressure tend to play extremely well. They want to be playing their best lacrosse heading into the playoffs just like us, so we fully expect a battle.”
The Stealth offense has been stellar all season, averaging a league-high 12.86 goals per game. It boasts the NLL’s top two scorers in Lewis Ratcliff and Rhys Duch. Ratcliff has 88 points on 39 goals and 49 assists while Duch is close behind, with 84 points on a league-high 40 goals and 44 assists. The duo’s numbers are impressive, but it’s the timeliness of their scoring that has the Stealth sitting in second in the West.
“We’ve got a pair of superstars in Lewis and Rhys, and they are proving that night in and night out,” said Hall. “They are both phenomenal lacrosse players and have stepped up when we’ve needed it with some clutch scoring and big time goals.”
“Clutch” is the perfect way to describe the Stealth snipers; especially last week against Minnesota when Ratcliff tallied the game-tying goal with 20 seconds left in regulation and Duch followed that with the game-winner in overtime. It was the fifth game-winner for Duch this season, and his second in overtime.
But Ratcliff, Duch and the rest of the Stealth’s potent offense will have its mettle tested tomorrow night against the Knighthawks and the NLL’s second-ranked defense. Led by goaltender Matt Vinc, Rochester has allowed just ten goals per contest, including ten or less in each of its last four games. Vinc ranks third among NLL goaltenders with a .793 save percentage and fourth in the league with a 9.75 goals against average.
While the Stealth offense has been firing on all cylinders throughout the season, it’s been the recent play of the defense that has sparked the team’s recent surge. After allowing nearly 13 goals per game in the first eight games of the season, the defense has allowed over 1.5 goals per game less in its last seven, including four games in which it held the opposition to ten goals or less. It’s a positive sign for a team that has been battling injuries to the defense all season long.
“I’m very pleased with the fact that we are playing better defense,” said Hall. “We still need to be more consistent, but we are playing more aggressively and with more grit than at the start of the season. Our continued growth on the back end and the steady play of both our goaltenders will be a huge asset for us in the playoffs.”
The bottom line is a Stealth win equals a home playoff game in the first round. The Stealth controls its own destiny against another tough team from the East. It’s the regular season finale, but just like every other game every week in the National Lacrosse League, the competition is going to be fierce.
The game between the Washington Stealth and the Rochester Knighthawks is scheduled to begin at 7:30pm at the Comcast Arena. Tickets for the game are still available and can be purchased by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.