EVERETT — The Washington Stealth looked like they had been left for dead.
They trailed the Edmonton Rush 6-0 two minutes into the second quarter of the National Lacrosse League West Division semifinal Saturday night at Comcast Arena. To that point, the Stealth struggled in just about every facet of the game..
Two hours later, they were celebrating one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history. Mounting a furious second-half rally, the Stealth defeated Edmonton 12-11 to earn a berth in next Saturday’s West Division final against the Calgary Roughnecks in Calgary.
“How could you not love this game? That was unbelievable,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said after Saturday’s victory. “That was a great moment in sport I really thought. That was a fantastic display of any sport.”
The outcome was headed a different direction in the first half.
Corey Small scored three of Edmonton’s first six goals to help the Rush open up what looked to be an insurmountable lead.
Stealth goalkeeper Tyler Richards, who at times this season has carried his team to victory, gave up five goals in 41⁄2 minutes and was replaced by Matt Roik after Edmonton went up 6-0.
“It was one of those games where you say, ‘Tyler get a breather and we’ll see if Matt can sort us out a little bit,” Hall said. “Roiker went in and he was calm and collected and made a couple of good stops for us.”
Richards said Roik was the only person to say anything to him when he was removed from the game.
“As he was trotting onto the field, he said, ‘go take a breather and get your focus back. You got this,’” Richards said.
The first 17 minutes of the game had been a nightmare for the Stealth. No offense, no defense, no goals.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Stealth forward Rhys Duch said. “Pretty much the worst is already there. We’ve got to get ourselves going and we need to get on the board.”
The Stealth did just that. Duch broke the scoreless streak with a power play goal with 10:57 remaining in the second quarter.
“The first goal was absolutely ugly,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve scored an uglier goal. It went off like three things and bounced behind them. You know what, sometimes you need that one to get going.”
Each team scored one more time before the end of the second quarter and the Stealth trailed 7-2 at halftime.
In the Stealth locker room at intermission, everyone understood what had to be done, Hall said.
“It was pretty simple,” he said. “We’ve got 30 minutes or it’s over. … What have we got? Let’s see what we’ve got.”
The Stealth turned up their intenisty in a hurry after halftime. Duch, the NLL’s regular-season goals leader, scored twice in the first minute and four seconds of the third quarter to cut Edmonton’s lead to 7-4. He finished with four goals, his third straight four-goal game and 12th game of the season with three or more goals.
Rookie Tyler Garrison scored twice in the quarter as well. The first came on a breakaway off a pass from Richards. The second was an acrobatic diving shot in front Edmonton’s net that beat Rush goalie Aaron Bold and made the score 9-7.
Both goals were instrumental in shifting momentum in favor of the Stealth.
“The boys are letting me know, it’s pretty nice, but at the time I thought it was just another goal,” Garrison said. “My first playoff goal in my first playoff game, I was riding high.”
After struggling in the first half, Richards turned into a brick wall in the second half, turning away shot after shot. However, his biggest play of the game wasn’t a save, it was a pass.
With time nearly expired in the third quarter, Richards saved an Edmonton shot, looked up the floor and delivered a perfect pass to Mike Grimes, who caught the ball in stride and fired a shot past Bold as the clock ran out.
“That was a giant goal for us, obviously,” Hall said. “And Grimes has been magic for us all year. At the buzzer — I think it was a giant motivator because now we are within one with a quarter to go. It was a fantastic goal.”
The Stealth’s momentum continued with Washington scoring the first three goals of the fourth quarter to take a 12-10 lead. Edmonton’s Jarrett Davis scored with 5:12 to play, but Washington held on down the stretch with Richards making several key saves in the final seconds to preserve the win.
“It was important to follow the ball, stay calm and just get the body in front of it,” Richards said. “I made a good save on (Corey) Small and one of our guys got a piece of the second shot in the middle there.
“The rest is history.
Richards recovered from his shaky start to save 41 of the 52 shots he faced. Small led Edmonton with three goals and three assists.
After the game, Stealth players and coaches were all smiles.
“It’s unbelievable,” Garrison said. “It’s definitely the biggest win that I’ve ever been a part of. It was absolutely crazy. The boys were so high after a huge comeback like that.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
Stealth 12, Rush 11
Edmonton 4 3 3 1 — 11
Washington 0 2 7 3 — 12
1st Quarter — Scoring: EDM — Knight Goal (Small, Thompson) 5:38; EDM — Small Goal (Davis, Conway) 12:38; EDM — Small Goal (Knight, Ward) 12:57; EDM — LaFontaine Goal (Corbeil, Rubisch) 14:31. Penalties: , WAS (Too Many Men, Minor, 2 min) 3:04; Pychel, WAS (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 9:38; Davis, EDM (Holding, Minor, 2 min) 9:38; Greer, EDM (Holding, Minor, 2 min) 11:48; Duch, WAS (Delay of Game, Minor, 2 min) 12:26.
2nd Quarter — Scoring: EDM — Matthews Goal (Small) 1:12; EDM — Small Goal (Conway) 1:43; WAS — Duch Goal (PP) (Hill, Bucktooth) 4:03; EDM — Matthews Goal (PP) (Ward, Small) 12:07; WAS — Iannucci Goal (Grimes, Hostrawser) 13:36. Penalties: Moleski, WAS (Slashing, Minor, 2 min) 0:21; Quinlan, EDM (Slashing, Minor, 2 min) 0:21; Rubisch, EDM (Holding The Stick, Minor, 2 min) 3:43; Cornwall, EDM (Illegal Cross Checking, Major, 5 min) 4:29; Beers, WAS (Holding, Minor, 2 min) 10:40.
3rd Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Duch Goal (Ratcliff, Smith) 0:20; WAS — Duch Goal (PP) (Iannucci, Ratcliff) 1:04; EDM — Cornwall Goal 2:47; WAS — Garrison Goal (Richards) 5:22; WAS — Duch Goal (Bucktooth, Smith) 5:47; EDM — Davis Goal (Matthews) 8:51; WAS — Garrison Goal (Richards) 12:07; EDM — Turner Goal (Matthews, Quinlan) 13:00; WAS — Iannucci Goal (Duch, Bucktooth) 13:29; WAS — Grimes Goal (Richards) 14:59. Penalties: Mydske, EDM (Illegal Cross Checking, Minor, 2 min) 0:23; , WAS (Too Many Men, Minor, 2 min) 2:47; Hostrawser, WAS (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 4:34; Turner, EDM (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 4:34; Cornwall, EDM (Checking from Behind, Major, 5 min) 14:12; Beers, WAS (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 14:12.
4th Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Moleski Goal 0:22; WAS — Ratcliff Goal (PP) (Bucktooth) 2:50; WAS — Bucktooth Goal (PP) (Duch, Ratcliff) 3:29; EDM — Davis Goal (Ward, Thompson) 9:48. Penalties: Beers, WAS (Slashing, Minor, 2 min) 4:29.