By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Buffalo Bandits are a team fighting for their playoff lives and it showed on Saturday against the Washington Stealth.
The Bandits scored eight goals in the final quarter to turn a close National Lacrosse League game into a 15-10 blowout at Comcast Arena. In the process, the Bandits ended their six-game losing streak.
With Rochester’s victory over Calgary on Saturday, the Stealth (8-7) could have clinched a home playoff game with a victory over the Bandits (6-9).
“(It was) a missed opportunity for sure,” forward Rhys Duch said. “It’s the same old story. I feel like I’m a broken record. We have to bring the same intensity for every team. We put everything on the line against Calgary the past two weeks and there was no reason for us not to take that same mentality into tonight.”
Duch did his part offensively, leading the team with four goals and two assists. Forward Dean Hill chipped in with a hat trick, but the Stealth got little offensive production elsewhere.
“Our offense is still struggling five-on-five,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “There were a little bit better signs, but we’ve got to get more than 10 (goals).
The lack of production on offense Saturday was magnified because the Stealth’s usually stellar defense and goalkeeping had an off night.
“If our goaltending and defense isn’t there then our offense has got to try and get some goals for us,” Hall said. “We still struggle a bit there.”
Stealth goalkeeper Tyler Richards came into the game with the second best save percentage in the league at .806. Saturday, he gave up 13 goals on 43 shots. Richards was pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of Matt Roik after giving up a goal to Kevin Brownell. Roik played the final 9:17 of the game, giving up two goals on nine shots.
While Washington’s offense struggled, Buffalo’s offense had little trouble. Mark Steenhuis scored two goals and dished five assists to lead the way for the Bandits. Aaron Wilson scored four goals and added two assists and Jordan Critch finished with two goals and two assists.
Buffalo goalkeeper Kurtis Wagar played the entire game, stopping 33 of the 43 shots he faced.
“I thought Buffalo played really well tonight,” Hall said. “Wagar did a real good job in net. He obviously had been struggling a little bit. So I think he had an excellent game. I think Buffalo had a very strong lineup tonight.”
The Stealth went on top early when Hill scored on the power play just 51 seconds into the game. Buffalo’s Aaron Wilson tied the score with 12:47 to play in the first quarter when his 35-footer from straight away hit Richards’ padding and bounced through his leg. Richards couldn’t find the ball behind and it slowly rolled passed the goal line.
It was a save that Richards nearly always makes and it was indicative of the type of night that was ahead for the Stealth.
Dhane Smith’s goal with 2:47 to play in the first quarter tied the score at 3-3 and the Stealth never led again. Buffalo increased its lead to 7-4 at halftime. The Stealth cut the deficit to 7-6 after three quarters after shutting the Bandits out in the period, but Buffalo exploded for eight in the fourth to put the game away.
Hall made a bit of history on Saturday, coaching in his 151st NLL game and tying Paul Day for third most all-time.
“It doesn’t mean too much when you lose,” Hall said after the game. “I think it’s something that I don’t think about. I just keep moving ahead and showing up and trying to make things work and make it successful. It’s nice to have that longevity in this league. I love to coach. I love the game, but I also don’t like losing so much.”
The same could be said for Duch, who with his four goals took over the NLL’s goal-scoring lead with 41 on the season, ahead several players with 40.
“I score goals to help my team win because that’s what they pay me to do,” Duch said. “I don’t really think there is anything that comes with it except a good write-up on the internet. I’m more concerned about beating Philadelphia next weekend.”
Despite the loss to Buffalo, the Stealth can still clinch a home playoff game with a victory over Philadelphia in the regular-season finale next Saturday at Comcast Arena. The Stealth aren’t out of the running for the division championship either. If Edmonton falls to Rochester today and Calgary next Saturday and the Stealth beat the Wings, Washington would win the West division.
“Go Rochester,” Duch said with a laugh. “That’s all I’ve got to say, right. It’s frustrating that we missed the opportunity, but that’s the way this league is working this year. I think all nine teams have a chance to have seven or eight wins which is pretty unreal.”
Bandits 15, Stealth 10
Buffalo 3 4 0 8 — 15
Washington 3 1 2 4 — 10
1st Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Hill Goal (PP) (Bucktooth, Duch) 0:51; BUF — Wilson Goal (Smith, Steenhuis) 2:13; WAS — Ratcliff Goal (SH) (Smith) 3:11; BUF — Williams Goal (Wilson, Brownell) 5:14; WAS — Snider Goal 5:22; BUF — Smith Goal (Wilson, Steenhuis) 12:13.
2nd Quarter — Scoring: BUF — Priolo Goal (Petkoff) 3:45; BUF — Wilson Goal (Priolo) 6:32; WAS — Duch Goal (Moleski, Richards) 8:16; BUF — Tavares Goal (Steenhuis, Smith) 8:38; BUF — Steenhuis Goal (Brownell) 10:29.
3rd Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Hill Goal (Buchanan, Ratcliff) 2:19; WAS — Hodgson Goal (Grimes, Richards) 14:14.
4th Quarter — Scoring: BUF — Wilson Goal (Brock) 0:49; WAS — Duch Goal (McMichael, Ratcliff) 1:21; BUF — Critch Goal (Petkoff, Brock) 1:43; BUF — Wilson Goal (Critch, Williams) 3:07; BUF — Hominuck Goal (SH) (Brownell) 3:52; WAS — Hill Goal (PP) (Duch, Ratcliff) 4:15; BUF — Hominuck Goal (Steenhuis, Williams) 4:52; BUF — Brownell Goal (Critch, Steenhuis) 5:43; WAS — Duch Goal (PP) (Ratcliff) 7:20; BUF — Critch Goal (Williams, Brownell) 8:39; WAS — Duch Goal (McMichael, Bucktooth) 10:13; BUF — Steenhuis Goal (Wagar) 11:45.
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.