The Washington Stealth couldn’t have picked a better time to get its first ever win in Minnesota. In the National Lacrosse League West Division Semifinals tonight, the Stealth defeated the Minnesota Swarm 14-8 to advance to the West Finals next weekend against the Calgary Roughnecks.
The Stealth got off to a rough start, allowing a pair of Swarm goals in the first four minutes of the game. The Stealth got on the board thanks to a Cliff Smith goal five minutes in to cut the Swarm lead to 2-1. The Swarm rattled off three straight, including a power play goal, to extend the lead to four. The Stealth offense responded late in the first, with Lewis Ratcliff and Jeff Moleski scoring goals in the final three minutes of the quarter to make the score 5-3 after one.
“After the first ten minutes, things calmed down,” said Stealth forward Rhys Duch. “We got back to the game plan and started executing on offense.”
Much like the offense, the Stealth defense and goaltender Tyler Richards got settled in after the first quarter. Kyle Ross opened the second quarter scoring for the Swarm, but it was the last goal they would score in the first half. Cam Sedgwick scored the first of two goals on the night at the 6:29 mark of the second quarter, then Ratcliff completed a first half hat trick with a pair of highlight reel goals in the final 1:20 of the second quarter. The teams went into the locker room tied at six at halftime.
“In the first half we were happy to get back in the game,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. When asked about the halftime message, he added, “We needed to continue to fight through adversity: keep playing our game.”
Minnesota regained a one-goal edge less than three minutes into the third quarter on a goal from Callum Crawford. Rhys Duch tied the score at seven less than two minutes later. Defenseman Matt Beers gave the Stealth its first lead of the game when he scored his first career playoff goal with 7:32 left in the third.
The Stealth never looked back. Jeff Zywicki, playing in his first game since March 13 due to a leg injury, scored a pair of goals in the third frame as the Stealth held a 10-8 lead going into the final fifteen minutes.
“It felt great being out there and being able to contribute,” said Zywicki, who finished with two goals and two assists. “The shots really started falling in the second half and we got some confidence at both ends of the floor.”
It was all Stealth the rest of the way as Richards made 27 saves on 29 shots in the second half, including a perfect 10-for-10 in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense really stepped up in the last three quarters,” said Hall. “We only allowed three goals in 45 minutes. Richards made all the saves he was supposed to make and a lot he probably shouldn’t have. It was a total team effort on the back end.”
Meanwhile the offense continued to put the Swarm away. Duch scored twice in the first five minutes of the fourth to extend the Stealth lead to 12-8. Sedgwick and Luke Wiles each scored down the stretch to give the Stealth the 14-8 victory.
“It felt great to be able to close out a game like that,” said Duch. “It’s something that we haven’t done consistently this season. Everyone stepped up to maintain a late lead and get us a big win.
Duch finished with a game-high seven points on three goals and four assists. Lewis Ratcliff also tallied a hat trick and added three assists. Zywicki and Sedgwick each tallied two goals and two assists. Paul Rabil was credited with three assists and eight loose balls.
Stealth face-off man Bob Snider went 14-for-24 on draws and grabbed a team-high 13 loose balls. Richards made 40 saves to earn his fifth career playoff win.
The Stealth defense held Swarm forward Ryan Benesch, the NLL’s points and goals leader in the regular season, to just three assists. It was the first time Benesch failed to score a goal since February 19.
Ross and Crawford led the Swarm with two goals apiece. Andrew Suitor scored a goal and grabbed a game-high 19 loose balls. Goaltender Nick Patterson made 38 saves in the loss.
The Stealth will face the West Division’s top seed, the Calgary Roughnecks next weekend. Calgary defeated the Colorado Mammoth 10-6 in the other West Semifinal played tonight. The West Division Final will take place on Saturday, May 7 at 6:30pm PST at the Scotiabank Saddledome and can be seen live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.