The Vancouver Stealth begin a crucial three-game stretch against divisional foes which will determine whether or not they are in the National Lacrosse League’s post-season dance for the first time since 2013.
With four games remaining in the regular season, Vancouver sits at 6-8.
It also gives them a half-game lead over Calgary (6-9) for the West Division’s third and final playoff spot. It also pulls the Stealth to within a game and a half of second-place Colorado (8-7).
And Vancouver will host both those foes in the coming weeks (April 15 and 22) but first up is a showdown with the division-leading Saskatchewan Rush (9-4), the lone NLL team to have their post-season spot secured.
The game — which will be streamed live on Twitter as part of the NLL’s Game of the Week— is set for Saturday night at the Sasktel Centre at 9:30 p.m. EST.
This is the team’s third meeting with each holding serve on their home floor. The Rush won 16-13 back in late January while Vancouver returned the favour with a 13-9 victory in early March.
Saskatchewan is coming off a 17-14 win over Buffalo while Vancouver used a second-half rally to knock off the Toronto Rock 14-11.
The Stealth mustered just three goals in the first half but played an inspired second half against the league’s stingiest defensive squad.
“We were a little stale in the first (half),” admitted Stealth forward Jordan Durston, who finished with three goals and three assists, including a highlight reel goal where he fought off two defenders and leapt from behind the goal to tuck the ball just under the crossbar as the shot clock expired.
The goal electrified both the team and the home crowd at the Langley Events Centre and was part of a 7-0 run which turned a 10-7 deficit into a lead Vancouver would not relinquish.
“Lacrosse is a game of runs, so you just have to stay in the game, (and) stick with your systems,” Durston said.
Head coach Jamie Batley said his message to the players at halftime was simple. “Make sure you can look in the mirror and know that you put everything on the floor,” he said about what was said in the Stealth locker room.
Now the task becomes stopping a Rush team which is an impressive 6-0 on their home floor.
Saskatchewan is second in the league with 13.15 goals per game, fourth in goal against at 11.85 and third on the power play, converting nearly 56 per cent of their chances.
The game will also be a showdown between the league’s top two scorers as the Stealth are led by Corey Small’s 37 goals and 89 points while the Rush’s Mark Matthews is right behind with 88 points, including a league-high 60 assists.