The Vancouver Stealth lived to fight another week.
With no margin for error as a loss would end their playoff hopes, the Stealth led from start to finish in defeating the Saskatchewan Rush 14-12 on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre.
The win improved Vancouver to 5-11 as they look to chase down the Calgary Roughnecks (7-10) for the third and final playoff spot in the National Lacrosse League West Division.
The Stealth must win twice on the road next weekend against Colorado (11-5) and Georgia (7-10) while hoping Calgary loses to Toronto (5-12).
“They were a little hungrier than us. They had a lot more to play for than we did,” said Rush coach Derek Keenan. “They played pretty desperate and we didn’t play as hard as we can.”
This was the first time all season Vancouver has won back-to-back games.
“Our effort was there, We played hard right from the very beginning, we played our style,” said Vancouver coach Jamie Batley, who improved to 2-3 since taking over behind the Stealth bench last month.
“There is accountability, We established that early, When you go on the floor, there is accountability, you can’t just go helter skelter, you have to play a system, within that system and you are responsible for that system.”
Vancouver scored the game’s first three goals and led 4-1 after one quarter. They extended that lead to 8-4 as Rhys Duch ripped home a shot just before the half-time buzzer sounded.
The Rush came on strong to start both the third and fourth quarters, both times opening the period with a pair of goals. But Vancouver would weather the storm both times.
Vancouver led 11-7 after three quarters. And the Rush got even closer in the fourth quarter with Mark Matthews scoring three of his five goals in the period — the last of which got Saskatchewan within a goal with two minutes to play — but Joel McCready scored his fourth of the goal 29 seconds later to re-establish the two-goal advantage.
McCready finished with four goals and six points while Logan Schuss had four goals and four assists.
Garrett Billings also returned to the line-up after missing the previous five games and had a goal and five helpers.
Duch had two goals and six assists, but didn’t play the final few minutes after drawing a penalty abut then needing help to the bench.
Corey Small (2+3) and Chris O’Dougherty (1+0) had the other Vancouver goals.
O’Dougherty opened the scoring with his first of the season.
More important than the goal, he helped anchor the Stealth defence.
“Our systems are starting to come together, we are starting to play more aggressive,” he said, singling out Ian Hawksbee, Curtis Hodgson and the team’s other veteran defenders in helping keep the Rush in check.
“(And) T-Rich is settling in and we are actually giving him shots that he is capable of saving.”
This was the second time in three meetings Vancouver has beat the defending NLL champions.
“It is a mental thing, you play this game to play against the best,” O’Dougherty said. “As an athlete, you step up and want to punch the best guys in the face. It is kind of fun to play against the best, I always thrive off that.”
The Rush were missing leading goal scorer Zack Greer, but the team still boasted three other players who have all surpassed the 30-goal mark. They are the only team with that many 30-plus goal scorers.
“Anyone on that offence can score. It is pick your poison with them,” O’Dougherty said.
Matthews (5+2) led Saskatchewan while Robert Church (3+2) also had a multi-goal game. Curtis Knight (1+2), Ben McIntosh (1+1), Kyle Rubisch (1+0) and Chris Corbeil (1+0) had the others.
The Rush had a 59-54 shot advantage and a slight edge in face-offs 15-13. They also gained 71 loose balls to Vancouver’s 64.
Special teams were also in Saskatchewan’s favour as they went 5-for-8 with the man advantage while Vancouver was 1-for-3.
While not happy to give up five power-play goals, Batley was pleased that none of the penalties were undisciplined, a problem that plagued the team in the first three weeks after he took over.
The Stealth are also 2-0 since defender Rory Smith returned to the line-up after missing the first 14 games.
“We all know Rory adds a tough element to the defence,” Batley said. “I know other teams look at that. They got their eye open, ‘when’s Rory sliding, when’s Rory going to hit me’, because he hits hard. He plays the game very hard.”
“I don’t know if it is a coincidence or not, but our defence is better with Rory in the lineup.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Logan Schuss
2) Tyler Richards
3) Joel McCready
By Gary Ahuja for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.