Stealth defender Matt Beers (center) checks Buffalo's 44-year-old John Tavares in 2012 (Photo: NLL File Photo)
Stealth head coach Chris Hall moves to third in all-time NLL games coached as he takes the bench for the 151st time in Saturday's game. (Photo: Richard Olson)
EVERETT, Wash. -- Punching its ticket to the NLL post-season last weekend, the Washington Stealth now zero-in on securing home-floor advantage for the playoffs when it faces the Buffalo Bandits, Saturday night in its only matchup this season with the New York team.
Game time for this crucial cross-divisional matchup is 6:45 p.m. at Comcast Arena in Everett.
In the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, Stealth head coach Chris Hall is using the final two games to perfect play on the floor and prep for a yet-to-be-determined opponent and location in NLL Divisional Semifinals the weekend of April 26 - 28.
“It’s certainly a relief (to clinch a playoff berth),” said Hall, whose team secured the berth after three tries with last Saturday’s win in Calgary. “Whenever you get an opportunity to clinch, you want to take advantage. To get rid of that anxiety was big for us.”
Splitting its last four games, the Stealth is looking to build on last week’s Calgary win to close-out the regular season.
“Now that we have clinched the playoffs it gives us a chance to put ourselves in position to play well in the playoffs,” Hall said. “It’s all about peeking at the right time in this league.”
With two games to go, the Stealth finds itself in a three-way tie for the West lead with Edmonton, Calgary and Washington all deadlocked at 8-6.
Wins on Saturday and next week when Philadelphia visits Comcast Arena will guarantee the Stealth no worse than the two-seed in the West. That scenario combined with an Edmonton loss in at least one of its remaining two games could give the Stealth the regular-season West title.
For a home-floor playoff advantage, a combined Washington win and Calgary loss by the end of the season gives the Stealth a chance to host.
With two games remaining before its post-season begins, Hall is focused on one game at a time. And that begins on Saturday night.
Facing a 5-9 Buffalo squad that has dropped its last six straight, the Stealth and Hall are keenly aware that the Bandits are desperate for a win to remain in the post-season mix.
“There are no easy games in this league,” said Hall who will look for answers to the game-winning power of Buffalo’s John Tavares and the big-save ability of goaltender Anthony Cosmo. “We’re facing a team that is really in do or die playoff mode,” Hall said. “We’re going to face a very tough team. We’ve got missions ourselves so I expect a real tough playoff-style battle.”
To penetrate the holes in a Buffalo defense allowing 14 or more goals in each of its last four games, the Stealth again will look to its attack unit to pester the Bandits on Saturday.
Held to just a single goal in Week 13, Rhys Duch is back as a threat notching a ninth hat trick and pulling within one goal of the NLL lead held by Colorado’s John Grant Jr. and Calgary’s Curtis Dickson during last week’s performance.
Lewis Ratcliff, with a hat trick and five points in last weekend’s win is also figuring prominently.
All good signs for the Stealth if it is to make a run at a second Champions Cup.
While besieged by opponent scoring this season, Buffalo has also struggled to put the ball in the net, averaging 10.5 goals-per-game.
Even with Buffalo’s off year, Washington still has to prepare for a group of capable scorers.
“They’ve got some great players and a great champion and leader in John Tavares great goaltending with (Anthony Cosmo) in the net and veterans like (Shawn) Williams and (Aaron) Wilson,” Hall said.
Leading the way, Williams is Buffalo’s main set-up man tallying a team-high 40 assists to go along with his 17 goals, while Wilson leads the team with 20 goals.
Putting the finishing touch on a 22-year career that has gone on since before Stealth defenseman Tyler Garrison was born, Tavares continues to produce, ranking second on the Bandits squad with 23 assists and third with 36 points.
“We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us against Buffalo,” said Stealth defender Curtis Hodgson. “It’s a must win for them and we’re hoping to match that intensity and compete.”
No matter what the outcome is this weekend when Hall takes his spot behind the bench on Saturday evening he will be doing it for the 151st time in his NLL head coaching career tying him for third most all-time with Paul Day. Last weekend Hall became just the third coach in league history to win 80 games as a head coach.
Tickets are still available for Saturday’s game. Visit www.stealthlax.com or call 877-MY-75-TIX… Washington Stealth… It’s like hockey with balls.
NLL WEEK 15
Game: Buffalo Bandits (5-9) at Washington Stealth (8-6)
Date: Saturday, April 13, 2013
Time: 6:45 p.m. PDT
Location: Comcast Arena- Everett, Wash.
Webcast: The NLL on YouTube on The Lacrosse Network available at www.stealthlax.com
Last weekend Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards surpassed Anthony Cosmo to become just the second stopper in franchise history to record more than 2,000 saves with the Stealth organization.
With his four assists last weekend, Stealth forward Brett Bucktooth surpassed the 100-assist mark for his NLL career. The Syracuse University standout will be up against his old team this weekend where he played the first five seasons of his career.
Northwest Harvest is the non-profit partner of the Washington Stealth on Saturday with fans being asked to bring canned or non-perishable food items to the game. Northwest Harvest can feed a family of three for just 67 cents and provides 1.7 million meals to those in need through its 350 food banks, meal programs and schools in need.
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