By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — If there ever was a time to forget about the past, that time is now for the Washington Stealth.
Leading 10-8 with just over seven minutes to play in last Saturday’s National Lacrosse League game against the Calgary Roughnecks, Stealth goalkeeper Tyler Richards was called for a five-minute major high-sticking penalty. The Stealth were outscored 5-1 the rest of the way and lost 13-11.
It was more than just a game they lost. It was the second straight game in which Washington failed to clinch a playoff berth. It was a missed opportunity to move into a first-place tie in the NLL’s West Division with Edmonton. And it was a missed opportunity to secure the tiebreaker in the season series with the Roughnecks.
But there isn’t time to dwell on what could have been.
Washington gets another crack at Calgary tonight in the Scotiabank Saddledome with just as much, if not more, on the line.
A win tonight and the Stealth move back into a tie with Calgary for at least second place in the West and secure the season series with the Roughnecks, effectively giving Washington a one-game lead over Calgary with two games to play. A loss, however, means the Stealth can’t catch the Roughnecks and in all likelihood will not have a chance to host a playoff game.
Stealth coach Chris Hall planned to address the importance of hosting a postseason game before tonight’s game.
“I think it is important to recognize that,” Hall said. “We talked about that at the beginning of the season, that it was important to get off to a good start because we want to have a home playoff game. We can’t lose sight of the fact that we want to win badly because we want to host a playoff game.”
Despite last weekend’s disappointing loss, Hall said confidence is high going into his team’s third meeting with Calgary this season.
“Our goaltending is strong right now and our defense has been playing solid,” he said. “I think we’ve got tons of confidence in being able to go into Calgary and win a game there. We’re not intimidated in any place that we go to play, so I think we have tons of confidence going into Calgary.”
Richards is arguably the NLL’s hottest goaltender. He ranks second in the league in both goals against average and save percentage. But in the Stealth’s two meetings with Calgary, it has been his penalties that have gotten the most attention.
In both games Richards has been called for five-minute majors for high sticking in the fourth quarter — and in both games the Roughnecks went on subsequent runs to get back into the game. In the first meeting between the two teams on Feb. 23, the Stealth saw a 12-6 lead evaporate with Richards in the penalty box. Calgary came back to tie the game 13-13, but the Stealth regained their composure and finished off the Roughnecks in the game’s final minutes.
Last Saturday, Richards’ penalty likely cost his team the game. The Roughnecks used their league-leading power-play unit to rally from a two-goal deficit in the fourth quarter.
In the first meeting, Richards didn’t have much to say about his penalty, he simply went to the box to serve the infraction. He later conceded there was nothing to say because he lost his cool and the penalty was just.
Last weekend’s penalty was a different story. Richards immediately reacted in disbelief to the call and his teammates came to his defense. The referees discussed the call, but Richards was still sent to the box to serve the five minutes.
Hall said determining if the penalty was the right call has to be left up to the league.
“Do I think it was a game-changing decision? Sure,” Hall said. “Obviously it was. Was it the right call? I think as a head coach in this league I would let the league judge whether that’s the right call or not.”
Right or wrong, it put the Stealth in a must-win position tonight if they hope to catch Calgary in the West Division standings.
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.