By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Washington Stealth waited until the last game of the regular season to play their best game — and they couldn’t have picked a better time.
The Stealth defeated the Philadelphia Wings 17-13 on Saturday night, earning the No. 2 seed in the National Lacrosse League’s West Division. Washington will play host to Edmonton next Saturday in the team’s first home-playoff game since winning the NLL championship in 2010.
“We put up 17 goals which is obviously great,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “The defense was solid in five-on-five and transition. So I think with all of that, it was certainly the best game we have played in a while.”
The Stealth pulled away from the Wings in the second quarter, outscoring them 6-1 in the period. But before that run could ever take place, Washington first had to show its resolve.
With the score tied 3-3 late in the first quarter, the Stealth went on the power play looking to take control of the game. Instead, forward Brodie Merrill tagged them with back-to-back shorthanded goals to give the Wings a 5-3 lead.
The Stealth responded by scoring 12 of the game’s next 13 goals. The only goal given up to the Wings during that run was a power-play goal to Philadelphia forward Drew Westervelt.
“I think it was very important that we didn’t get down on ourselves and we didn’t panic,” Hall said. “We made a couple of big, big mistakes there when we could have taken charge of the game a little bit. But I think it was real important to get the next one and then we got on a little bit of a momentum roll there. I think that showed some real signs of resiliency and not getting down on ourselves, so that was a good thing.”
The Wings finished the third quarter with three straight goals and continued to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter, getting to within three before the Stealth finally closed the door.
Philadelphia forwards Jordan Hall and Brendan Mundorf led the Wings with two goals and three assists apiece. Former Stealth star Paul Rabil was held without a point in his first game back at Comcast Arena since being traded to Edmonton early last season.
There were no shortage of heroes for the Stealth, but forward Rhys Duch certainly earned top-billing. Duch scored four goals and had five assists and in the process won the NLL’s regular season goal-scoring championship, finishing with 45 — two ahead of Colorado’s John Grant Jr. Duch also set career-highs in both goals and points.
“Accolades are awesome,” Duch said. “It’s real great to be rewarded and recognized for your successes and obviously scoring goals is something that I take pride in. So it’s a pretty cool feeling to win that award. But, I score goals to help my team win.”
One player who isn’t used to finding the net too often is defenseman Curtis Hodgson, but he found it on Saturday. Hodgson scored unassisted in the first quarter, his second goal of the season and second is as many weeks.
It wasn’t enough for the 31-year-old veteran. He added another in the second quarter for just the third multi-goal game of his career.
“I think I said to (Duch), ‘it’s nice to show the old guys can still put the ball in once in a while,’” Hodgson said. “We’ve got so many good athletes that can run the floor and tonight was just my night. I got lucky on a couple of good shots and I’m happy to contribute by scoring some goals rather than just playing defense.”
After not making the playoffs a season ago and not having a home playoff game in three years, the crowd of 4,352 stood up and cheered the Stealth as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“It’s a huge win for this franchise,” Hodgson said. “Not being in the playoffs last year has been a thorn in our side all year and it was a goal when we started the game that it was important for us and this franchise to get a home playoff game and so I think it’s a huge positive for us to keep building on as we go into the playoffs.”
Calgary, Edmonton and the Stealth all finished tied atop the West Division at 9-7. Calgary takes the top seed thanks to the three-way tiebreaker, the Stealth finish second and Edmonton finishes third.
Washington will host the Rush at 6:45 p.m. next Saturday at Comcast Arena in the NLL West Division semifinals. The Rush took two of three from the Stealth in the regular season.
“We’ve got to do our homework again and understand why they got a leg up on us this year,” Hall said. “They present a big challenge for us. I think the good news is that we’ve played them enough times that we’ve got a pretty good read on them.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stealth 17, Wings 13
Philadelphia 5 1 3 4 — 13
Washington 4 6 4 3 — 17
1st Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Iannucci Goal (Ratcliff, Smith) 1:05; PHI — McLellan Goal (Ross, Mundorf) 2:32; PHI — Westervelt Goal 3:49; WAS — Duch Goal (Sorensen) 5:28; PHI — Crowley Goal (Merrill) 8:45; WAS — Hodgson Goal 10:57; PHI — Merrill Goal (SH) (Manney) 13:03; PHI — Merrill Goal (SH) (Sweeney) 13:34; WAS — Hill Goal (EA) (Smith, Iannucci) 14:55. Penalties: , PHI (Too Many Men, Minor, 2 min) 12:38.
2nd Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Duch Goal (Smith, Ratcliff) 0:40; WAS — Smith Goal 1:12; WAS — Ratcliff Goal (Smith, Duch) 4:44; WAS — Grimes Goal (Beers) 5:58; WAS — Hodgson Goal (Moleski) 7:33; PHI — Westervelt Goal (PP) 8:59; WAS — Duch Goal (Garrison, Beers) 11:12. Penalties: Bucktooth, WAS (Illegal Cross Checking, Minor, 2 min) 2:03; , WAS (Too Many Men, Minor, 2 min) 8:43; Iannucci, WAS (Holding The Stick, Minor, 2 min) 12:22.
3rd Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Ratcliff Goal (Smith, Duch) 1:33; WAS — Bucktooth Goal (Duch) 3:40; WAS — Ratcliff Goal (Bucktooth, Duch) 5:24; WAS — Snider Goal 5:32; PHI — Crowley Goal (PP) (Hall, Mundorf) 7:16; PHI — Mundorf Goal (PP) (Crowley, Westervelt) 9:45; PHI — Hall Goal (Buchanan, Merrill) 12:50. Penalties: , WAS (Too Many Men, Minor, 2 min) 6:07; Hostrawser, WAS (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 8:26; Rabil, PHI (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 8:26; Pychel, WAS (Slashing, Major, 5 min) 8:26; Ross, PHI (Goaltender Interference, Minor, 2 min) 12:20.
4th Quarter — Scoring: PHI — Sweeney Goal 1:31; WAS — Duch Goal (Snider) 2:00; PHI — Hall Goal (Buchanan, Mundorf) 2:44; PHI — Mundorf Goal (SH) (McLellan, Hall) 7:50; WAS — Hill Goal (PP) (Duch, Bucktooth) 8:10; WAS — Smith Goal (O’Dougherty, Grimes) 9:21; PHI — Westervelt Goal (PP) (Hall) 13:58. Penalties: Merrill, PHI (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 7:08; , WAS (Too Many Men, Minor, 2 min) 12:25; Francis, PHI (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 13:58.