Going into today's game against Minnesota, Washington owns the worst record in the NLL at 4-9. The Stealth trail Edmonton by a half game in the race for the final playoff spot. The Rush, however, hold the tie-breaker, meaning Washington must finish with a better record than Edmonton in order to reach the postseason.
And it isn't just the Rush the Stealth are chasing. Eight of the nine NLL teams make the playoffs. The fifth-place team in the West Division can advance to the postseason over the East's fourth-place team if the fifth-place team finishes with a better record or, in the event of a tie, holds the tie-breaker. That means the Rochester Knighthawks (5-8) and Buffalo Bandits (5-8) also are on the Stealth's radar.
With three weeks to go, the playoff scenarios are plentiful, but Stealth head coach Chris Hall said it's too early to worry about all the possibilities. "We've got to take care of our own end of things," he said.
That starts with Minnesota, a team the Stealth beat 20-13 at Comcast Arena on Feb. 25 in their most complete game of the season. The Swarm (6-7) have had their share of struggles recently and a win by Washington today would get the Stealth within one game of Minnesota and earn them the regular-season tie-breaker.
"(Tonight) is a very important game for us because it gives us the tie-breaker," Hall said.
In order to be successful, the Stealth will have to improve on their previous performance, a 13-11 loss to Calgary on March 31. The Stealth spotted the Roughnecks four goals thanks to a flurry of first-quarter penalties, but climbed back into the game late behind the goalkeeping of Tyler Richards and four goals by forward Athan Iannucci. But in the end, the early deficit proved too much.
"After the Calgary game, I would have liked to get back at it right away," said Hall, whose team had a bye last weekend. "In retrospect, we have had a week to look back on it and contemplate why we keep putting ourselves in these situations."
After a 1-6 start to the season, the Stealth have won three of their past six games to get back into the playoff race and aside from the hurtful penalties, Hall has liked what he has seen.
"Outside of those mistakes we've been making, I think we have been playing very good lacrosse," Hall said.
But those mistakes have cost the Stealth dearly, Hall added.
"Two of those three losses in the last six games are games we should have had in hand but let slip through our fingers," he said.
Still, the Stealth control their own playoff fortunes. If they win out, they're in.
"It's still in our hands to get into the playoffs, so we are in a good situation in that way," Hall said.
He stopped short, however, of calling the next three contests must-win games.
"There is never a must-win game until there is a must-win game," Hall said. "It's not an absolute must yet."
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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