The Washington Stealth (7-5) host the Calgary Roughnecks (7-5) at Comcast Arena on Saturday at 10pm ET. (Photo: Richard Olson)
The Washington Stealth (7-5) host the Calgary Roughnecks (7-5) at Comcast Arena on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET for a crucial West Division matchup as the Stealth look to clinch a playoff berth and the regular season tiebreaker over the Roughnecks. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
Calgary has already clinched a playoff berth while Washington can earn a spot in the postseason with a win or a loss by either Colorado Mammoth (4-7) or the Minnesota Swarm (4-7) this weekend.
“Probably just as a good a time as any to get a week off and get refocused for the last quarter of the schedule and the run to the playoffs,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “We hope to start anew and really look at the last quarter of the season as the route to peak for playoffs.”
Both Calgary and Washington trail the idle Edmonton Rush (8-5), winners of seven of their last eight games, by just a half game in the standings.
The Roughnecks used late-game dramatics by forward Curtis Dickson, who scored twice in the final minutes of regulation and again in overtime, to earn a 12-11 home win over the Colorado Mammoth last weekend.
“Colorado came in, they’ve been playing real good ball and they came in hot and kind of put us on our heels a little bit but I thought as the game went on we showed that resiliency," said Calgary head coach Curt Malawsky. 'We bent a little bit but we didn’t break. Even when they tied the game up late, there have been times past in the season where we panicked and we ended up losing those games."
Malawsky credited the attitude of his team for getting the end result they wanted.
"We had a lot of character in that room and championship pedigree," he said. "I think in those one-goal games, those things rise to the top. Like I said, I was proud there was no panic and the composure we had going through.”
Roughnecks defenseman Jon Harnett said that even when they were down 7-3 at halftime, the atmosphere in the locker room was still upbeat.
“They beat us on some power play goals there but it was on the defense to kind of keep us in [it] because on the offensive side of things, they’ve carried us all year. We knew the goals were going to come on our side and we just had to persevere back there."
And in the end, it was the man they call "Superman" who helped the Roughnecks persevere for the win.
"Dickson is a special player and he took a penalty earlier in that sequence and he kind of owed us one and he knew that,” Malawsky said. "That’s what’s going to make him have longevity in this league and be special for a long, long time, you know...rise up to the occasion. And he did.”
Calgary is led offensively by forward Shawn Evans, who currently leads the league with 82 points (26+56) and assists (56).
“There’s not many guys who want to win as bad as Shawn and that’s contagious," Malawsky said. "When the game is on the line, he wants the ball on his stick and when there is a big play that needs to be made, he wants to make it. He’s been using his teammates around him, hence the amount of assists he has accumulated, so he is a special player and part of a special group.”
The Stealth have won three of their last four games but will be looking for redemption after their most-recent 12-5 loss against the Minnesota Swarm two weekends ago.
“I think we had been peaking for awhile, it just kind of came unraveled in Minnesota on the offensive end,” Hall said. “Our defense and goaltending was still real solid. Our offense just didn’t mesh at all.”
Washington looks to repeat their offensive performance from their first meeting against Calgary when they tied a season high with 16 goals in their 16-14 win in Washington on Feb. 23.
Malawsky knows his team needs this win to help position themselves for a better playoff seed and possible home field advantage in the postseason so a loss might really hurt their chances.
“With only three games left after this one, it puts you in a bit of a hole and you would be struggling to get where you want to be come playoff time," he said. "This is a massive game and last time we were down there they put it to us, the score was flattering in my mind. They beat us in all aspects of the game.”
Coming into this weekend’s game, the Stealth are averaging almost 12 goals per game and have a roster of proven scorers in Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff, Athan Iannucci, Dean Hill, Cliff Smith, Brett Bucktooth and Dean Hill.
Duch has continued to prove that he is an elite scorer in the NLL, ranking third in the league with 33 goals behind only Colorado Mammoth forward John Grant, Jr. and Rush rookie Mark Matthews, who both lead the way with 35 goals on the season.
At 2.75 goals per game, Duch is projected to score 44 goals, which would tie the franchise’s third highest goal production in a single season. He could tie the franchise’s all-time record of 48 by averaging 3.75 goals over his final four games.
Defensively, the Stealth have been strong, allowing more than 12 goals in just two of their last seven games this season. However, with the Calgary’s top-rated offense coming into town, the defense will have their work cut out for them.
“Calgary has a pretty potent offense, good goaltending and they have good defense as they showed last weekend so we got a pretty big test ahead of us this weekend and the upcoming weeks,” said Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen. “We have to be on our game for 60 minutes to come out on top.”
The key matchup for Saturday’s game will be between the two goaltenders in Washington’s Tyler Richards and Calgary’s Mike Poulin.
Richards ranks near the top of every goaltender statistic this season as he leads the NLL with an .806 save percentage, ranks second in saves (432) and is third with a 10.52 goals against average.
Behind the bench, Hall will be coaching against his former team, whom he led to the 2004 NLL Champion’s Cup, and is set to make history on Saturday night.
With a victory, Hall would become the fourth head coach in NLL history to win 80 games. It would be fitting for Hall to set that mark against Calgary has many of those victories came as the head coach of the Roughnecks. Also, Hall is just two games coached away from becoming the fourth coach in NLL history to coach in 150 games.
With just four games remaining in the season, every game is pivotal for the Stealth, who are trying to earn home field advantage for the playoffs, which start in just one month.
“Looking back at the last four games, we’ve been playing pretty well with the exception of the Minnesota game,” Sorensen said. “I think a lot of us have that chip on our shoulder, thinking about it for a week and a half. We just have to come in and have a good practice on Friday.”
The two teams will meet in Calgary next weekend for the second leg of the home-and-home series, this time at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 8.