EVERETT — The past two times Tyler Richards played this well, the Washington Stealth went to the National Lacrosse League championship game.
The Stealth goalkeeper saved 51 of the 57 shots he saw against Colorado on Saturday and led his team to a 13-6 victory over the Colorado Mammoth.
“It would be a comparison to the 2010 and 2011 playoff stretch,” Richards said. “That was maybe the best lacrosse I have played. This has kind of been the first time for me that I have kind of been the number one guy from the beginning of the season and been able to answer the bell. C.H. (head coach Chris Hall) challenged me the morning of the Rochester game and said I needed to be better. So you step up, or someone else will take your spot.”
In the past two games Richards has given up just 13 goals and saved 99 of the 112 shots he has seen.
“I think it’s much like shooters,” Hall said. “When you are in the groove, you see the ball so well. He was technically so sound tonight. He was in the right place all the time and he knew where the shots were coming from and was just absolutely solid.”
Richards got a lot of help from his defense. Mammoth forward John Grant Jr. came into the game with 30 points (17 goals, 13 assists) in just four games. The Stealth held him to no goals and one assist.
“When you are able to shut down a guy like John Grant Jr. to zero and one — we are dictating where the shots are coming from,” Richards said. “I know when I know it’s going to be an open shot and I know when the shots are coming and that makes my life simple.”
Adam Jones was the only Colorado player to score multiple goals. Both of his goals came on the power play. The Mammoth scored just three goals at full strength in the game.
The Stealth were much improved on their power play, scoring four goals with at least a man advantage. They also picked up their first shorthanded goal of the season and improved on their dismal penalty kill percentage.
“Those are the things that had been really killing us,” Hall said. “It was going to be a major focus. I think the players were rewarded for focusing on improving those areas of the game.”
With the defense playing so well, there was little pressure on the offense to produce — yet they did from the game’s opening minutes. Dean Hill scored a power play goal, Cliff Smith scored the shorthanded goal and the Stealth kept piling it on. Late in the first quarter they had built a 5-1 lead.
There was very little action in the second quarter until forwards Brett Bucktooth and Mitch McMichael both added goals in the final two minutes to give the Stealth an 8-3 lead at halftime.
McMichael added another goal in the fourth quarter and missed out on his first-career NLL hat trick because a goal he scored in the third period was disallowed for a crease violation. It was, however, the first multiple goal game of McMichael’s career.
“It’s mostly pretty much just dumb luck,” McMichael said. “I’m going to the net hard and good things happen when you do that.”
With the way Richards and the defense were playing, the Mammoth never threatened a comeback in the second half.
The Stealth took over second place in the division with the win. They also secured the season series from Colorado in the event that both teams end up tied at the end of the regular season.
“It’s huge,” Hall said. “Now they are a couple of games behind us and they have to scramble around and find wins looking toward the back half of the season and they are hard to come by. Having the tiebreaker is a big deal. We didn’t have too many tiebreakers last year.”
Offensively Colorado was led by Jones. The second-year forward had two goals and two assists and accounted for four of Colorado’s 14 points on the night. Former Stealth goalkeeper Matt Roik took the loss for Colorado and saved 29 of 42 shots.
The Mammoth’s six goals was their lowest scoring output since Feb. 20, 2011 when they scored five goals in a 15-5 loss to the Boston Blazers.
Washington was led by Rhys Duch who scored three goals and had two assists. Duch leads the league in goals with 18. Cliff Smith also added two goals and two assists. Smith now has 11 goals on the season giving him a new career high. He had 10 goals in his rookie season in Colorado in 2010.
There was a scary moment for the Stealth in the fourth quarter when defenseman Bill Hostrawser appeared to be knocked out after a fight broke out with Colorado’s Ilija Gajic. Paramedics brought out a stretcher, but after several minutes Hostrawser got up and was helped off the floor by teammates. Hostrawser underwent further tests after the game, but Hall said he expected him to be OK.
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stealth 13, Mammoth 6
Colorado 2 1 1 2 — 6
Washington 5 3 2 3 — 13
1st Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Hill Goal (PP) (Iannucci, Bucktooth) 2:03; WAS — Smith Goal (SH) (Sorensen, Grimes) 3:34; COL — Clark Goal (Jones, MacLeod) 6:13; WAS — Grimes Goal (Garrison, Richards) 6:42; WAS — Duch Goal (Ratcliff, Smith) 9:53; WAS — Bucktooth Goal (EA) (Ratcliff, Duch) 12:37; COL — Morgan Goal 14:06. Goalie Changes: None.
2nd Quarter — Scoring: COL — Jones Goal (PP) (Prout) 3:48; WAS — Iannucci Goal (EA) (Hill, Duch) 5:02; WAS — Bucktooth Goal (Hill, Ratcliff) 13:26; WAS — McMichael Goal (Smith, Iannucci) 14:00. Goalie Changes: None.
3rd Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Duch Goal (PP) (Ratcliff) 1:32; COL — Jones Goal (PP) (Grant Jr., Prout) 7:21; WAS — Smith Goal (Henderson) 8:47. Goalie Changes: None.
4th Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Duch Goal (PP) (Iannucci) 5:25; WAS — Ratcliff Goal (PP) (Iannucci, Bucktooth) 7:36; COL — Cupido Goal (Roik) 12:18; COL — Pollock Goal (PP) (Jones, Dalgarno) 13:44; WAS — McMichael Goal (Iannucci, Salt) 14:30. Goalie Changes: None.