The story of Saturday night’s National Lacrosse League game between the Washington Stealth and the Calgary Roughnecks begins and ends with one play.
Stealth goalkeeper Tyler Richards was called for a five-minute major penalty for high sticking with 7:16 to play in the game and Washington leading by two goals. The penalty would win up costing the Stealth a whole lot more than just the game. Washington (7-6) failed to clinch a playoff berth for the second consecutive game, fell a game behind Calgary and Edmonton for first place in the NLL’s West Division and missed out on an opportunity to secure the season series from the Roughnecks.
The loss puts even greater emphasis on next Saturday’s road game with the Roughnecks. If the Stealth win, they move back into a tie with Calgary for at least second place in the West and effectively take a one-game lead over the Roughnecks by virtue of winning the season series. A loss, and the Stealth fall two games behind the Roughnecks in the standings, but would likely not have an opportunity to host a playoff game because the Roughnecks would clinch the three-game season series with the Stealth.
Richards disagreed with the call on the field and Stealth head coach Chris Hall said he will wait to watch the tape to make any sort of comment on the play, but there was no question it changed the game. Washington controlled the game for 55 minutes, but the five minutes without Richards proved to be the difference. Calgary came in with the top power play in the NLL and took advantage with three goals in just over two minutes after the infraction. The Roughnecks added one more before Richards returned, turning a two-goal deficit into a two-goal advantage.
The rest of the Stealth’s season might depend on how they respond to this one moment. In reality, Washington has little to hang its head about. The Stealth outplayed one of the top teams in the league for the second time this season and came up just short thanks to the penalty. If the Stealth learn from their mistake and come out with the same kind of intensity next weekend, they could put themselves in a great position to secure a home playoff game. If they don’t come out strong they could find themselves having to go on the road throughout the postseason, something that would be a disappointment for a team that has had at least a share of first place for all but two weeks of the season.
The penalty was no fault of Richards. He wasn’t doing anything malicious. It was just a defense mechanism to a player diving into his area.
But it did have dire consequences.
Richards put the responsibility on himself after the game and said he needs to make better decisions.
His teammates came to the defense of him both on the field after the penalty was called and after the game — as well they should.
With eight minutes to go it looked like the Stealth were on their way to celebrating their most important victory of the season. When the final buzzer sounded they were reeling after their most disappointing loss.
The only thing to do now is to regroup and go get a win in Calgary next Saturday to turn this thing around.
Saturday’s game awards:
Game MVP: Curtis Dickson (Calgary). Dickson scored four goals to lead the way for the Roughnecks offense.
Stealth MVP: Lewis Ratcliff. Ratcliff has struggled at times this season, but came up with two goals and three assists to lead his team on Saturday.
Moment of the game: Mitch Jones (Stealth). Jones grabbed a missed Kyle Sorensen shot and beat Mike Poulin with 24.5 seconds left in the first quarter for his first career NLL goal.