A pair of fourth-quarter goals from Cliff Smith helped the Vancouver Stealth stay alive in their quest for a playoff berth.
With his team down 11-10, Smith scored two of the final three goals for Vancouver in a 13-12 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks in National Lacrosse League action at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday night.
The win kept the Stealth alive as they improved to 4-11 while Calgary, the team they are chasing for the West Division’s third and final playoff spot, fell to 7-10. Calgary is off next week and has just one game remaining while Vancouver needs to win next weekend and then both games on the season’s final weekend to have a chance. Should Vancouver win out and Calgary drops their season finale, they would both be 7-11 but the Stealth would hold the tiebreaker.
“This is the first step. If we don’t win this game then we are all just playing for jobs,” Smith said. “At least now we are still playing for something.”
Both of his goals came in transition as he adjusts to a new role on the team, instead of the forward position he has played in years past.
“(The goals) were pretty big because it kind of made up for some defensive mistakes earlier,” Smith said. “This kind of cancelled them out.”
Smith said he is learning his new role, which has him coming out of the back door. And in the past couple of games, he has played cautiously as he learns the nuances of his new role. But as he gets more comfortable, Smith has been able to take more chances.
The game was close throughout.
Calgary raced out to a 3-0 lead but the Stealth cut it to 3-2 after one quarter. The teams were tied at seven at the half and tied at 10 after three quarters. The Stealth had a huge opportunity to go ahead early in the fourth quarter after Brandon Goodwin was given a five-minute penalty for a hit to the head.
But it was the Roughnecks who capitalized first as Curtis Dickson sniped his second of the game from long range for the 11-10 lead.
On the same power play however, Smith would tie the score and Jordan Durston would out-wait Mike Poulin for his third of the game to give Vancouver a 12-11 lead.
Smith then took a breakaway pass from Chris O’Dougherty to put the Stealth up a pair with less than seven minutes to play.
Smith would take a high sticking major with 2:34 to play but the Stealth penalty kill and goaltending of Tyler Richards stood tall. Tyler Burton did beat Richards with his fourth goal of the night but it came with 6.2 seconds to play and the Roughnecks could not get another shot off before the game wound down.
Smith said he was relieved his teammates bailed him out, admitting had Calgary come back with him in the box, that would have crushed him.
Stealth coach Jamie Batley, who picked up his first win behind the bench since taking over last month, said the fact they got three transition goals was crucial.
“That was really the difference in the game in my opinion,” he said. “Those are the things we haven’t been getting, transition goals. Everything else usually equals out.”
He pointed out that the week before, Calgary out-scored Vancouver 7-1 in transition in the Roughnecks 16-12 victory.
The Roughnecks won the face-off and loose ball battles, respectively, taking 19 of 28 draws and getting 64 loose balls compared to Vancouver’s 63.
The special teams were also a standoff as Calgary was 3-for-5 with a short-handed goal while the Stealth were 4-for-8.
And Roughnecks coach Curt Malawsky said his team got away from what they wanted to do.
“We figured they didn’t really want to play 5-on-5 for 60 minutes,” he said. “We didn’t want to do that but at times our emotions got the best of us. There were things that should have been irrelevant but we ended up making them relevant and then they were able to cash in on those key opportunities.”
“That’s a lesson we have learned for the majority of the season. But our emotions got the best of us at certain points in the game,” he added. “It has never been a lack of effort for our group of men, but hats of to (Vancouver), I thought they played well too.”
Tyler Richards made 42 saves in the victory, several times while he was on the ground and just lunging to get a body part on the shot.
“They were a few desperation moments,” he said. “When you are having a game, you get them and when you are not, they seem to go flying past you.”
“I seemed to get lucky more often than not.”
This was the team’s first win after seven straight losses.
“It was huge for our confidence,” Richards added. “We are fighting for our [playoff] lives. Just pure desperation and we have to keep that going. Every game for us is win or we are out. We have a lot more confidence moving forward but we have a heck of a task next week with Saskatchewan in town.”
The Stealth were led by hat tricks from both Durston (3+1) and Logan Schuss (3+4) while Rhys Duch (2+6) had another huge game. Smith and Corey Small each had two goals and an assist. Ian Hawksbee had the other Vancouver goal.
Jeff Shattler led the Roughnecks with four goals and four assists while Dickson had two goals and four assists, Burton had four goals and Wes Berg had a goal and two helpers.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Rhys Duch
2) Logan Schuss
3) Jordan Durston
By Gary Ahuja for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.