By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — Last week, Washington Stealth head coach Chris Hall said his team shouldn’t be overconfident playing its National Lacrosse League West Division semifinal at home.
Turns out he was right. The Stealth fell behind 6-0 and needed a furious second-half rally to pull off the come-from-behind win.
His warning this week: Don’t be fooled by regular-season success.
The Stealth face the Calgary Roughnecks in the division final at 3:30 p.m. today in the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. The winner advances to next weekend’s Champion’s Cup.
Washington won two of three games with Calgary in the regular season and nearly had the third if it weren’t for a five-minute major high-sticking penalty called on Washington goalkeeper Tyler Richards. The Stealth led 10-8 and appeared to be in control of the game at the time of the penalty, but with Richards out, the Roughnecks scored five of the final six goals to come from behind and win 13-11.
Even in defeat, it seemed the Stealth outplayed the Roughnecks, but Hall doesn’t want his players thinking that way.
“You obviously can’t be overconfident,” Hall said. “Any playoff game in this league and you are one and done. Thinking that you are going to go in and get a victory because you had some success (against the Roughnecks) during the year is the wrong approach.
“If you look at the gamesheets of all three of those games, they were incredibly close and one team could have won all three or the reverse.”
One positive for the Stealth is that they have proven they can beat the Roughnecks on the road. Washington’s 12-11 victory in the Saddledome on April 6 clinched the regular-season series.
“What we have to take from that is the fact that at the time we won the season series, when there was a lot of things potentially riding on that game, and we had to go there after losing one at home against them, and (we) came out with the win,” Hall said. “I think in terms of confidence-level we know that we are capable of winning a game against them. We know that we can win in the Saddledome. Having said that, that’s the end of the confidence-level thing. The rest of it comes down to grinding it out.”
Stopping the Roughnecks offense has been a problem for just about everyone this season. Their 222 regular-season goals were the most in the league and they put up 15 in an opening-round playoff victory over Colorado. Forwards Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie, Jeff Shattler and Shawn Evans give the Roughnecks four of the NLL’s top 10 goal scorers in the regular season.
The Stealth counter with Rhys Duch, the league’s goal-scoring champion with 45. Duch will need help from a surrounding cast that has been productive, but inconsistent.
In the Stealth’s victory over Edmonton last Saturday, Duch led the way with four goals. Veteran Athan Iannucci and rookie Tyler Garrison each chipped in with two. No other Stealth player had multiple goals.
An intriguing aspect of the game is the matchup between the two goalkeepers.
The Stealth’s Tyler Richards was near the top in every statistical category in the regular season, but started off shaky in the playoff opener, giving up the first six goals of the game. Richards was replaced briefly by Matt Roik, but was outstanding after returning.
Calgary’s Mike Poulin had nine wins record in the regular season, but his other statistics were not so impressive. Against Colorado last weekend, however, Poulin was phenomenal. His .800 save percentage ranked second among last weekend’s starting goalies.
“This presents itself as another one of those games within a game,” Hall said. “That will be a good battle. I know they are on opposite ends of the floor, but I know they are both trying to anchor their teams to a win by having a great game.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.