With nothing else to play for other than pride, the Washington Stealth made sure their season finale was an entertaining one.
Washington got seven goals from Lewis Ratcliff and erased a late five-goal deficit to send to the game into overtime, but lost 17-16 to the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday night after John Tavares scored the game-winner with 5:05 left.
The winning goal capped a hat trick to go with two assists for the league’s career scoring leader. The 43-year-old Tavares finished the season with 41 goals – good for second behind John Grant Jr.’s 50 with Colorado.
“It’s disappointing,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall following the fifth-longest game in the NLL's 26-year history. “We buried our self again early in the game. We played with a lot of heart and character and tried to get our self back in it. It was a long deep hole to come back from.”
Washington (4-12), which won the Champion’s Cup in 2010 and lost by one goal last spring in its bid for back-to-back titles, was the only team not to make the playoffs in 2012 and lost its final four games of the season.
“They’re a team with a lot of pride,” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour, “I knew they weren’t going to lay down, I expected a very tough game and that’s what it turn out to be.”
Buffalo (7-9) is locked into the East Division’s No. 4 seed and will open postseason play at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night against defending NLL champion Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.
The Stealth got off to a slow start in the first quarter giving up four goals in the first 10:47 of the game before Ratcliff answered with two to halve the deficit after one.
The Stealth played a strong second quarter coming back to take a two-goal lead at 7-5 with just under three minutes to play in the first half. Buffalo came back to score three quick goals to take an 8-7 lead into the half.
The two teams exchanged goals early in the third quarter before the Bandits began to take control and chased starting goaltender Tyler Richards after going up 12-9 late in the third quarter.
The Bandits continued to add to their lead and were up by as many as five in the fourth quarter until Billy Dee Smith took a five-minute high-sticking major. The Stealth took advantage with Rhys scoring once and Athan Iannucci netting two more with the extra man to make it a 16-14 game with 4:08 to go in regulation.
Duch completed his hat trick at 11:14 before Ratcliff scored his seventh with 99 seconds to play in regulation. He became the first player with seven in a game since Minnesota’s Ryan Benesch on Jan. 14, 2011, against the Stealth. Ratcliff also had four assists to lead the club with 11 points.
Richards turned away just 17 of 29 shots in just under 39 minutes of play. Kevin Croswell also made 17 saves on 22 shots in 31:04, including a game-saving stop on a breakaway by Scott Self in the final minute of regulation.
“I played with Self earlier in the summertime so I had an idea of what he probably going to do,” said Croswell, “it was a little nerve-wracking when he was coming across the white line, but I made the save”
Anthony Cosmo played the entire game for Buffalo making six of his season-high 47 saves in overtime.
Washington’s Bob Snider won 30 face-offs, giving him 319 this season to break the NLL record shared by Peter Jacobs (Philadelphia 2005) and older brother, Geoff Snider (Philadelphia 2008).
Saturday's game was also the final one for Washington forward Cam Sedgwick, who announced his retirement. Sedgwick took five shots on goal and didn't record a point.
Mark Steenhuis had another strong game, leading Buffalo with seven points (three goals, four assists). Roger Vyse had a hat trick, including his 100th career goal, as part of a four-point game for Buffalo, which has won three of four.