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Stealth and Wings set sights on clinching home playoff game

04/16/2013, 11:00am EDT
By NLL.com's Stealth beat writer Ben Tole and Wings beat writer Dave Walls

Philadelphia's Rabil will make first return to Washington against former team

The Washington Stealth (8-7) host the Philadelphia Wings (7-8) at Comcast Arena on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET for their 2013 NLL regular season finale, marking the return of Paul Rabil as both teams try to clinch a home playoff game. (Photo: Todd Bauders)

With both teams setting their sights on a first-round home playoff game, the Washington Stealth (8-7) host the Philadelphia Wings (7-8) at Comcast Arena on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET for their 2013 NLL regular season finale. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

These teams met earlier this season on March 9 when the Stealth ran away from the Wings and coasted to a 16-10 victory in Philadelphia.

Last weekend, Washington had an opportunity to clinch a home playoff game and stay in the chase for the West Division regular title, but a disappointing 15-10 loss to the Buffalo Bandits eliminated the Stealth from division title contention.

The Stealth can still clinch the two seed in the West Division and host a playoff game with a victory over the Wings this weekend or with losses by both the Calgary Roughnecks and Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night.

“We’d love to play at home, it’s important for the organization and it’s important for everybody that we try to achieve that goal and get ourselves a home game,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “We had an opportunity last week and we hung in there until the start of the fourth quarter and then it kind of went south on us in a hurry.”

After struggling to control the Buffalo defense, the Stealth are looking to bounce back against a team that has struggled to score this season, as the Wings are averaging a league-worst 10.47 goals per game in 2013.

The Stealth defense had a rare off week last weekend by allowing Buffalo’s offense to come alive for 15 goals. 13 of these goals came against Washington’s starting goaltender Tyler Richards, who faced 40 shots before getting replaced by Matt Roik midway through the fourth quarter.

“I don’t think we got the game out of Tyler Richards that we usually get,” said Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen. “He’s usually there to bail us out but the guy’s only human – he’s not going to play 16-19 perfect games. “

Offensively, the Stealth are still looking to get out of their recent funk where they have averaged 9.5 goals per game over their last four contests and haven’t been able to score more than 12 in a game since putting 16 up on the board against the Wings in March.

Despite the offensive decline, forward Rhys Duch has continued to shine as he leads the NLL with 41 goals in 2013, one ahead of John Grant, Jr. of the Colorado Mammoth and Dane Dobbie and Curtis Dickson of the Calgary Roughnecks.

Washington will have to be ready for a different-looking Philadelphia Wings this time around. When these teams met back in March, the Wings were without forward Brendan Mundorf and captain Brodie Merrill, which gives them a different look as they prepare for the rematch against the Stealth.

“(Philadelphia) has a few players that are coming back in – you look at Mundorf and (Merrill) – who didn’t play against us a few weeks ago and we did go in there and kind of take over a good Philly team so we’re definitely aware of that,” said Sorensen.

The Wings will also get a boost with faceoff specialist Jeff Reynolds and Brett Manney back in the lineup this time around.

 “We’re not 100% healthy, but we’re as close as we’ve been,” said Wings president and governor Michael French.

After suffering a five-game losing streak, the Wings have fought back to win two straight games with a win over Minnesota by a score of 15-13 and most recently, their 10-9 overtime win to clinch a playoff spot. Goaltender Brandon Miller won the NLL Defensive Player of the Week award for his efforts. Miller’s stellar play with 48 saves on 57 shots for an .840 save percentage against the Rock kept the Wings in the game.

On the offense, the Wings used a balanced scoring attack to knock off the Rock, with Mundorf recording six points (2+4), Kevin Buchanan posting four points (2+2) and Jordan Hall adding two goals, including the overtime game winner.

With a Philadelphia win this weekend, as well as a Buffalo win against Rochester, the Wings would host a first-round playoff game, something the Wings have not done since 2002.

This weekend also marks the first time that Wings star transition player Paul Rabil has played in Washington since being traded away in exchange for Athan Iannucci last February. In addition to Rabil, Kyle Hartzell will also be playing in his former home arena for the first time since leaving the team during the offseason.

“We’ve already seen [Rabil and Hartzell] a few weeks ago so we’ve already gone through that,” Sorensen said. “But I’m sure they’ll have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder coming in here and wanting to prove a little bit more.”

After tying Paul Day for third in all-time in games coached, coach Hall is set to move into sole possession third with 152 games coached in the NLL.

After last weekend’s letdown, the Stealth will be motivated and hungry for the chance to earn their first post-season home game since they won the Champion’s Cup in front of their home crowd in 2010.

“We do our homework,” Hall said. “We look at film, polish up our own systems and come with a focused effort and play as hard as you possibly can and that’s how you prepare to win.”

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