After such a horrendous start to the 2012 National Lacrosse League season, nearly every game the Washington Stealth have played in recent weeks has been labeled a big game.
Perhaps that has never been more true than their matchup tonight with the Edmonton Rush.
This weekend, the Stealth play back-to-back games, at Edmonton starting at 6 p.m. today, and at home against Minnesota starting at 4:45 p.m. Sunday.
With the Stealth sitting at 3-7 in the NLL’s West Division and Edmonton just a half game behind at 2-7, the first game has major playoff implications. Eight of the nine teams in the league make the playoffs and the Rush and the Stealth are both in danger of being the odd team out. A win for the Stealth gives them a 1½-game lead over the Rush with five games to play in the regular season and also knots the season series at a game apiece. If the Stealth lose to the Rush, Washington would once again fall into last place and would need to finish the season with a better record than Edmonton because the Rush would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“It’s very big,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “A win puts us in a good spot playoff wise with only five games left. If we lose, we slip back to last and you start scrambling. It has very big playoff implications, no question.”
The Stealth had last weekend off after splitting a home-and-home series the previous weekend with the NLL’s top team, the Colorado Mammoth. The Stealth earned their first home win of the season in their March 11 victory over Colorado. It was the first time this season that the Stealth got multiple goals from their big three offensive players — Athan Iannucci, Lewis Ratcliff and Rhys Duch — in the same game.
Hall said the offense needs to continue to build on that performance.
“I think we need to continue to improve and continue to complement each other,” he said. “They seem to be starting to find themselves last game.”
The week off should help several Stealth players who have missed time this season get fully healthy, specifically Duch, who returned for the series against the Mammoth but wasn’t quite 100 percent.
“It’s probably helped Duch more than anybody else,” Hall said.