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Bandits visit Stealth with their season on the brink

04/09/2013, 10:30am EDT
By Ben Tole, Stealth beat writer for NLL.com

Buffalo looks to stay alive in playoff race while Washington seeks home field

The Washington Stealth (8-6) host the Buffalo Bandits (5-9) at Comcast Arena on Saturday at 10pm ET. (Photo: Richard Olson)

After securing a postseason berth last weekend, the Washington Stealth (8-6) set their sights on clinching a first-round home playoff game when they host the Buffalo Bandits (5-9), who are fighting to stay alive in the playoff race, at Comcast Arena on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

Last weekend, the Stealth used a second-half push to avenge their loss to the Calgary Roughnecks (8-6) the week before with a 12-11 win to capture the season series tiebreaker, which could be the difference between playing at home or on the road in the playoffs.

“I was pretty proud of our effort,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “We got behind late but battled back so it was a nice win for us and put us in great position for our last two games of the season.”

With two games left, the Stealth are in a three-way tie atop the West Division with Calgary and the Edmonton Rush (8-6), who face one another in the regular season finale.

The Stealth can guarantee themselves no worse than the number two seed in the playoffs by winning their final two games, but they can also secure a home playoff game with a win and a Rochester Knighthawks win over either Calgary or Edmonton this weekend.

Buffalo, who have lost six-straight games, enters the game needing a win to keep themselves in the playoff race. With a 5-9 record, they are currently the odd-man out in the NLL playoff picture but sit just one game back of Philadelphia in the East Division and the Colorado Mammoth and Minnesota Swarm who could have the opportunity to crossover from the West and take the fourth seed in the East.

A loss to the Stealth and one win by Rochester this weekend would eliminate Buffalo from playoff contention.

“As much damage as we’ve inflicted upon ourselves, we still have the opportunity,” said Bandits transition player Mark Steenhuis . “We hold a little bit of faith in our hands, so as a team. we’re not looking too into that at the moment we are trying to just piece it together and get our systems in place.”

The Stealth hope to take advantage of a Buffalo defense that has struggled to keep the ball out of its net by allowing a league-worst 13.6 goals per game.

“I think we’ve all been gripping our sticks a little too tight in the last month here so we have to stop that either way,” Steenhuis said. “We love the opportunity that presents itself. Still a chance to get into the playoffs but we also know it could be pretty detrimental to us if we lose.”

After an off weekend, Stealth forward Rhys Duch was back to his old ways tallying his ninth hat trick of the 2013 season last weekend. The forward is sitting just one goal back of the John Grant, Jr. and Curtis Dickson, who are tied for the league-lead with 37 goals in 2013.

Lewis Ratcliff also figured prominently in the Stealth’s offensive production for the second straight week. He checked in with a hat trick of his own while adding two assists for five points on the night.

Although the Bandits have struggled to score this season, the Stealth will be preparing for a team that has some of the most proven scorers in the NLL such as John Tavares and Shawn Williams, while Aaron Wilson has been the top finisher for Buffalo in 2013 by scoring 20 goals and rookie Dhane Smith has netted 20 as well.

“There are no easy games in this league we’re facing a team that is really in do or die playoff mode,” Hall said. “They’ve got some great players. A great champion and leader in John Tavares, great goaltending with [Anthony Cosmo] in the net and veterans like Williams and Wilson.”

In his 22nd year in the NLL, Tavares is still proving to be a productive player in this league. Tavares, the league’s all-time leading scorer, still ranks second on the team in assists with 23 and is third on the team with 36 points this season.

No matter the outcome on Saturday night, history will be made when Hall takes his spot behind the Stealth bench for the 151st game of his NLL head coaching career, tying him for third all-time with Paul Day.

Last weekend, Hall won his 80th game as a head coach, becoming just the third coach in the league’s history to accomplish the feat.

“I had a little bit of time to reflect on [the game’s coached milestone]this week when I read it in the paper,” Hall said. “I’m proud of that accomplishment. It’s tough to be a head coach in this league and have longevity in it like any league. It was a proud moment for me and a testament to the effort and the things that I have devoted myself to over the course of the years.”

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