By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — As Washington Stealth coach Chris Hall likes to stress, every one of the 16 games on his team’s National Lacrosse League regular-season schedule is important.
Hall, however, won’t deny that tonight’s matchup with the Calgary Roughnecks is without a doubt the Stealth’s “biggest game to date.”
“A lot is on the line here, right?” Hall said. “We can win the season series (with Calgary). We can solidify a playoff spot and really put ourselves in a pretty good position to finish first or second (in the West Division).”
Washington (7-5) and Calgary (7-5) take the field at 6:45 tonight in Comcast Arena. They come into the game tied for second place in the West. With a victory, the Stealth clinch a playoff spot and take a one-game lead over over the Roughnecks. A Stealth victory also would put them up 2-0 in the three-game season series, effectively giving them a two-game advantage with three games remaining in the regular season.
The Stealth trail first-place Edmonton (8-5) by a half-game but can move into a tie for first place by beating the Roughnecks. Edmonton has a bye this week.
Tonight’s game also is the first of a home-and-home with the Roughnecks. The back half of the two-game set is next Saturday in Calgary. If the Stealth lose tonight, they would fall a game behind Calgary for second place but would still be tied in the season series. That likely would create a must-win situation for the Stealth next Saturday if they hope to finish as one of the West’s top two seeds.
On the other hand, a victory tonight and a win next Saturday would clinch at least second place in the division and give the Stealth at least one home playoff game.
“If we win (tonight), we have the season series on them and they really have to come pretty close to winning out because even if they tie us, after that we get the nod on them,” Hall said. “It is probably a little bit more do-or-die for them than it is for us in this situation.
“If we can win this, we really put ourselves in a great spot.”
The Stealth should be helped by the fact they are playing on their home floor, where they are 4-1 this season. Washington faced Calgary in Everett on Feb. 23 and won 16-14. The two-goal difference doesn’t begin to tell how lopsided the game was.
“Last time we were down there, they put it to us,” Calgary head coach Curt Malawsky said. “The score was flattering in my mind. They beat us in all aspects of the game.”
The Stealth led 12-6 after three quarters. The Roughnecks scored eight goals in the final 15 minutes to make the final score look more respectable. Calgary’s late run was aided by a five-minute major penalty on Washington goalkeeper Tyler Richards for high-sticking. With Richards in the penalty box, Calgary scored five goals in 5:22 on then Stealth backup goalkeeper Nick Patterson.
“We did dominate that game,” Hall said. “We did control it from start to finish and it was probably one of our best performances of the year.”
Hall said he expects a more competitive game this time around. The Roughnecks have one of the NLL’s most potent offenses, sparked by forward Shawn Evans, who leads the league in points with 82 (26 goals, 56 assists).
“You aren’t going to hold that offense under 10 goals very often because they’ve got so many ways to beat you,” Hall said. “But if your goaltender is hot and your defense is confident and playing well, then we are capable of doing it. … I expect to see a little different team this time around because they are obviously going to come in here pretty focused with four games to go in their season and both teams really want to be peaking going into the playoffs.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.