The Washington Stealth needed a win in the regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Wings. The Stealth had already clinched a playoff berth, but to avoid going into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak and having to play on the road, they had to have a victory.
They responded with their best game of the season.
It was just what the doctor ordered. The inconsistent offense scored a season-high 17 goals. Forward Rhys Duch captured the National Lacrosse League’s regular-season goal scoring championship. Defenseman Curtis Hodgson chipped in two goals. Forward Cliff Smith got back to his early-season form with two goals and five assists.
Put it all together and the Stealth will host the Edmonton Rush next Saturday in the team’s first home-playoff game since winning the championship in 2010.
It was really the type of game that the Stealth have been capable of all season. The defense and goaltending have been consistently top-notch, but the offense has had its ups-and-downs. Saturday night, the Stealth played like champions.
They faced adversity early, giving up two shorthanded goals in the first period.
How did they respond?
By scoring 12 of the game’s next 13 goals. That is called making a statement.
Former Stealth star Paul Rabil made his return to Comcast Arena as an opponent for the first time. The Stealth held him without a point. The players and coaches will tell you that there was no added motivation in Rabil’s return and perhaps they are being truthful. But it couldn’t have hurt the cause. If truth serum could be injected into the Stealth defenders, they would probably tell you how proud they are to have kept Rabil off the scoresheet.
Now, the Stealth turn their attention to the postseason. The Rush will be a difficult test. Edmonton defeated the Stealth twice in the regular season and were arguably the toughest team Washington faced all year.
If they need a blueprint on how to win, they need look no further than Saturday against the Wings. If the Stealth play like that for three more games the probability is high that they will be the NLL champion for the second time in four seasons.
Saturday’s game awards:
Game MVP: Rhys Duch — This really should be a season MVP because Duch has been the most consistent player on the Stealth roster all season. His 45 goals were a career high as were his 95 points. He finished the season as the top goalscorer in the NLL and was third in total points. Duch is the biggest reason why the Stealth are where they are.
Comeback player of the game: Cliff Smith — Smith had two goals and five assists and was just one point off of his career-high for points in a game. Smith’s performance resembled the way he played in his first two games of the season and the Stealth would love to see those type of games again in the playoffs.
Honorable mention: Lewis Ratcliff — Ratclif has struggled at times this season, there is no doubt about that. But he has come on recently and finished Saturday’s game with three goals and two assists.
Unsung hero: Curtis Hodgson — As a defender, Hodgson doesn’t score many goals, but he got two against Philly. It was just the third multi-goal game of Hodgson’s career and it came at a perfect time. Both goals came in the first half and seemed to energize the Stealth as they turned a tight game into a blowout.