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Stealth target playoff berth as Swarm try to stay in the hunt

03/13/2013, 1:40pm EDT
By NLL.com's Stealth beat writer Ben Tole and Swarm beat writer Jace Frederick

Washington is in with a win, Minnesota hopes Gillam provides boost

The Minnesota Swarm (3-7) host the Washington Stealth (7-4) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8pm ET. (Photo: Scott Pierson)

The Washington Stealth (7-4) are targeting their fourth-consecutive win and a playoff berth when they visit the Minnesota Swarm (3-7) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET in the decisive third game of their season series. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

After missing the playoffs last season with a 4-12 record, a win would clinch a playoff spot for the Stealth and move them one step closer to top seed in the West Division.

“It would be great to get a playoff position sealed up this weekend,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “It’s one of the first goals on the list as you start the season. So to be able to be in a position to accomplish it in the 12th game is a spot we want to be in. We are going to do everything we can to accomplish that feat on the weekend.”

In the two previous meetings between the teams this season, the home team has won both games, with the Swarm taking the first game by a score of 15-14 in Minnesota on January 26 before the Stealth returned the favor with an 11-8 win at Comcast Arena on March 3.

Despite the drastically different offensive outputs, Minnesota likes the performances it put forth in both contests.

“Offensively speaking, we’ve got to generate opportunities,” said Swarm forward Jay Card. “I think in both games we were successful in doing that. We just ran into a hot goalie. [Tyler Richards] is one of the best goalies in the league. You’ve got to shoot to score on him.”

The Swarm have lost three straight and are currently tied for last place in the West division with Colorado. With just six games remaining in the regular season, urgency is setting in.

“Unfortunately we’ve put ourselves in a situation where every game starts to put a little more pressure on the sticks for the guys to perform and for everybody to bring their “A” game,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “There really is no room for error.”

“Obviously there’s a sour taste in our mouths,” Card said. “No team likes to lose. I think for us, we just got to take it one game at a time and play as a team.”

Minnesota continues to struggle to find consistency on both ends of the floor. Despite scoring 15 goals in Calgary last Friday, the Swarm fell 19-15 to the Roughnecks.

“All you can do is ask the guys to focus,” Sullivan said. “What I’ve seen so far is just inconsistency. To change that, I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. It’s just leaning on some veterans to ask them to do a little more and at some point we need to expect our rookie players to step up and play like guys that have played in this league before.”

During their current three-game winning streak, the Stealth are averaging over 14 goals per game while holding their opponents to under 11 goals, much in part due to the great back end play by their defense and the continued superb play of goaltender Tyler Richards.

Last weekend, Richards held the Philadelphia Wings to 10 goals on 52 shots to snap Philadelphia’s three-game win streak. So far this season, Richards is tied for first in the league in save percentage (.807) and ranks second in goals against average (10.35).

For his performance last weekend, Richards was named the NLL’s Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. He previously won the award for his performance in Week #6 when he held the Colorado Mammoth to six goals.

Washington will look to its deep group of forwards for continued offensive production. Rhys Duch leads the NLL with 31 goals this season while Athan Iannucci and Lewis Ratcliff are both above the 20 goal mark as well with 21 goals apiece in 2013.

The Stealth are also receiving key secondary scoring from the trio of Cliff Smith, Brett Bucktooth and Dean Hill this season, who have combined for 36 of the team’s 138 goals.

“We’ve had some personnel changes but I think it’s more of a philosophy thing,” Iannucci said.  “We’re talking and communicating a lot better we’re moving the ball and our feet and I think we’re all just working together.”

Although Minnesota comes into this game with a subpar 3-7 record, Washington knows that with the addition of Josh Gillam, the Swarm is not a team that should be overlooked.

“They’ve added another twist to their roster here at the trade deadline…we expect Josh Gillam will be back in the lineup on the left side,” Hall said. “They moved Joel Henry to the practice roster to accommodate Josh in the back and I think he’s  a dynamic type player. He’s a hustler, he’s aggressive and a go getter I think he’s going to add some fire to the left side of their offense.”

Sullivan hopes the addition of Gillam from the team’s holdout list provides a lift this weekend. Gillam scored 13 points (4+9) in six regular season appearances in 2012.

“He’s got a very quick first step, he can finish, he’s great with loose balls,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking for him to step in and just give us a shot in the arm with some energy that he can provide us.”

The Stealth clinch a playoff berth with a win.

“Washington’s in a great place and they’ve worked hard to get there,” Sullivan said.

The Stealth will have their only bye week of the season following the game in Minnesota and will return to action on March 30 when they host the Calgary Roughnecks in the first leg of a pivotal home-and-home series that could go a long way in determining the West Division regular season title and home field advantage.

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