CALGARY — For the Washington Stealth, the third time proved to be the charm.
The Stealth had a chance to clinch a playoff berth in each of their previous two games with a win, but came away empty-handed in both efforts.
On Saturday, they finally seized the opportunity.
Facing a four-goal deficit in the second half, the Stealth responded with a late-game rally that earned themselves a postseason berth. Washington scored seven of the game’s final nine goals to beat the Roughnecks 12-11.
Not only did the Stealth clinch a berth in the postseason, but they also moved into a first-place tie with Calgary and Edmonton in the National Lacrosse League West Division with just two games to play in the regular season. All three teams have an 8-6 record. The Rush own the season-series tiebreaker over the Stealth and, by virtue of Saturday’s victory, the Stealth own the season series over the Roughnecks.
“We have an opportunity to still win the league quite frankly,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “That’s a good position to be in. So, in terms of how big the game was, it was giant because obviously a loss means we still haven’t clinched a playoff spot because Colorado won and we would have given up a home playoff game opportunity to Calgary, so it was monstrous.”
Stealth forward Rhys Duch gave his team a 4-3 lead in the second quarter before the Roughnecks were able to swing momentum in their direction. Dane Dobbie scored two goals and Jeff Shattler and Shawn Evans each added one as Calgary scored the final four goals of the first half to take a 7-4 lead at halftime.
Curtis Dickson added another Calgary goal less than two minutes into the third quarter to extend the lead to 8-4.
Stealth forward Brett Bucktooth stopped Calgary’s run with 12:29 to play in the third quarter cutting the Calgary lead to three, but Dickson responded 23 seconds later to extend the lead to four once again.
From that point on it was all Stealth, led by Lewis Ratcliff’s two third-quarter goals, Washington scored the final five goals of the quarter to take a 10-9 lead heading into the final stanza.
Ratcliff, who has struggled at time this season, finished the game with three goals and two assists.
“It’s awesome (to see Lewis play well),” Duch said. “Lewis is one of my best friends and I’ve loved playing with him for years. It was good to get him some looks. We really made it a point to make sure that we got him some open shots. He is one of the best shooters ever to play the game. He had a great game and put the ball in the net for us.”
Calgary responded to its first deficit since early in the second quarter with back-to-back goals 10 seconds apart with 10:59 and 10:49 to play in the game respectively.
The Roughnecks held the one-goal lead for just over seven minutes until Dean Hill got free in front of the net to tie the game with 3:45 to play.
A minute later Duch scored what proved to be the game-winner — a 35-footer that bounced on the floor twice before sneaking through Calgary goalkeeper Mike Poulin’s legs.
In each of Washington’s first two meetings with Calgary, Stealth goalkeeper Tyler Richards was called for five-minute major high sticking penalties in the fourth quarter. The first time the Stealth nearly blew a six-goal advantage and last weekend in Everett, the Roughnecks rallied from two goals down with Richards in the penalty box to win the game.
On Saturday, Richards was penalty free and saved 48 of the 59 shots he faced.
“First, I’m just glad he stayed out of the penalty box,” Duch said. “T-Rich made some huge saves all throughout the game, none bigger than in the last few minutes when they seemed to have the ball forever. It’s so good to be able to play when you can trust your goalie to make the saves he should and some of the ones he shouldn’t.”
Facing the possibility of going another week without clinching a postseason berth and seeing the possibility of a home playoff game slip away, Duch said the Stealth adjusted mentally in the second half to get back on track.
“It was mental things,” Duch said. “We tend to be our own worst enemies. We want to win so bad that when we aren’t winning we start getting on each other and nit-pick at each other for every mistake we make. We had a good talk at halftime, just picking each other up. People make mistakes, nobody wants to make a mistake, but it’s good to know when you come to the bench you are going to have your teammates picking you up.”
Hall said after the game that for a second straight week, both teams played at a very high level.
“That’s back-to-back games that were playoff quality lacrosse,” he said. “They got us in our rink last week and we showed some real character to come back and play a huge game here.
Stealth 12, Roughnecks 11
Washington 2 2 6 2 — 12
Calgary 3 4 2 2 — 11
1st Quarter—Scoring: CGY—Snider Goal 0:07; WAS—Ratcliff Goal (PP) (Bucktooth, Duch) 1:51; CGY—Ranger Goal (Evans, Shattler) 3:15; CGY—MacRae Goal (Ranger) 9:30; WAS—Moleski Goal (SH) (Grimes) 14:46.
2nd Quarter—Scoring: WAS—Grimes Goal 0:40; WAS—Duch Goal (PP) (Buchanan, Bucktooth) 6:27; CGY—Shattler Goal (Carnegie) 7:23; CGY—Dobbie Goal (Ranger, Poulin) 9:18; CGY—Dobbie Goal (Shattler, Resetarits) 12:52; CGY—Evans Goal (PP) (Dobbie) 13:58.
3rd Quarter—Scoring: CGY—Dickson Goal (PP) (Ranger, Dobbie) 1:24; WAS—Bucktooth Goal (PP) (Ratcliff) 2:31; CGY—Dickson Goal (Evans, McFetridge) 2:54; WAS—Ratcliff Goal (PP) (Bucktooth) 3:21; WAS—Moleski Goal (McMichael, Garrison) 5:43; WAS—Buchanan Goal (SH) (Duch, Jones) 10:10; WAS—Ratcliff Goal (Duch) 12:04; WAS—Duch Goal (PP) (Ratcliff, Buchanan) 13:38.
4th Quarter—Scoring: CGY—Shattler Goal (Dobbie) 4:01; CGY—Dickson Goal (Snider, Manning) 4:11; WAS—Hill Goal (McMichael, Duch) 11:15; WAS—Duch Goal (McMichael) 12:15.