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Red-hot Wings ready for matchup with incoming Stealth

03/05/2013, 10:30am EST
By NLL.com's Stealth beat writer Ben Tole and Wings beat writer Dave Walls

Two of the NLL's hottest teams will meet in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Wings (5-3) host the Washington Stealth (6-4) at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night at 8pm ET. (Photo: Todd Bauders)

The Philadelphia Wings (5-3) will put their three-game winning streak on the line when they host the West Division-leading Washington Stealth (6-4) at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

The Stealth reclaimed the top spot in the West Division with an 11-8 victory over the Minnesota Swarm last weekend. Entering Saturday night’s game, Washington will look for breathing room as the Edmonton Rush and Calgary Roughnecks sit just one game back in the standings.

“We will have to be prepared,” said Stealth assistant coach Dan Perreault. “We’ve done our homework throughout the week, watching tape and scouting reports. They’re a team that builds momentum as the game moves along so we just have to be prepared and get our legs going early.”

While Washington and Philadelphia are not too familiar with one another, the Stealth know they will have their hands full with the surging Wings.

“Philly might be the hottest team in the league right now they’ve won their last three  and they are a big strong athletic team,” said Stealth assistant coach Dan Perreault. “They run well so when we arrive, we have to be ready to go and when we hit that floor we’ve got to be running.”

Wings forward Kevin Crowley still remembers his breakout game last season against the Stealth. Crowley scored five goals, capped off with the overtime winner, for a 10-9 win while helping to establish himself as a legitimate scoring threat for the Wings in his rookie season.

“I have fond memories of that game,” Crowley said. “A lot of things went right for us that day.”

With the first of two games against the Stealth this season, Crowley wants to return to the scoring form that he experienced against Washington last season.

“I haven’t gotten back to that type of offensive output yet this season,” he said. “So I’m looking to have one of those types of breakout games.”

Over the last two weekends, Washington has been able to play with consistency  by stringing together two wins for the first time since the first two weeks of the regular season.

“We were solid,” Perreault said. “Once we got the lead, we maintained that lead throughout the game. It’s important to be able to hold onto that and that’s with good goaltending, good defense and then the offense scored when we needed them to. We are just trying to be more consistent from game to game  and quarter to quarter.”

One of the biggest keys to success on Saturday will come down to goaltending, as the game will feature two of the league’s hottest netminders. The Stealth’s Tyler Richards comes into the game with the NLL’s second-best goals against average (10.37) behind only Rochester’s Matt Vinc. Wings goalie Brandon Miller ranks fourth in the league in both GAA (11.38) and saves (301).

Both goaltenders  are coming off big performances where they held their respective opponents to 10 or fewer goals in their wins last weekend.

Offensively, the Stealth continue to get contribution from all over the floor as forwards Athan Iannucci and Brett Bucktooth proved to be the heroes last week. Iannucci comes into Saturday’s game having scored 10 goals in his past three games, including back-to-back four-goal performances.

Bucktooth has scored five goals in his past two games, including his first hat trick as a member of the Stealth last weekend. With Bucktooth now at 11 goals on the season, the team has six players with double-digit goals so far this season.

“We are finally starting to find our groove,” Bucktooth said. “We are communicating better. We’re talking a lot more on and off the floor, building chemistry each game and each shift. Everyone is getting their shots and we’re working for each other, which is the most important thing.”

For the Wings, they’ll look to Crowley, the team’s leader with 39 points (15+24) this season, to help put the ball in the back of the net. On the other end, goalie Brandon Miller’s stellar play has not gone unnoticed by his teammates, nor by Philadelphia’s general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian, who credits Miller’s success to his offseason workouts, summer gameplay, and dedication.

“He made a real commitment to himself,” Mouradian said. “He’s done a few things bio-mechanically that have really paid dividends. We’re counting on him to take us on a nice run, and he’s counting on us to score the goals needed to win.”

While Philadelphia’s balanced scoring attack has gotten the job done in the last three games, according to Mouradian, it’s the ability to start strong and stay disciplined, that will play a large part in determining the winner.

“The last three games, we had to come from behind,” Mouradian said. “Our players have showed a lot of character. Miller has been stellar, but we need to avoid the penalty situations that allow teams to take early leads.”

With a tiebreaker against the Colorado Mammoth already in hand, the Stealth are closing in a playoff berth after missing the playoffs last season with a 4-12 record. The magic number of wins for the Stealth to clinch a playoff berth is currently at four, but with the Mammoth playing twice this weekend, that number can decrease to as little as just one by weekend’s end.

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