With the first team clinching an NLL playoff berth in Toronto, the race to the playoffs has seemingly kicked off. Each game has a little more importance, a little more meaning to it. Almost the entire league is in the thick of the playoff race in both divisions, making divisional games like Vancouver vs Colorado all the more intense.
The Stealth are in Colorado, needing a win after a lacklustre 14-11 loss to the Mammoth last Saturday at the Langley Events Centre. The lead built over Calgary when the Roughnecks came out of the gates 0-6 has all but evaporated. Although the Stealth have just four wins to Calgary’s three, Vancouver does have two games in hand—something sure to come in handy if the Stealth need to make an extra push to cement a playoff position.
Tonight is a prime opportunity for the Mammoth to put some real distance on the Stealth. A win would not only give them the season series with Vancouver (3-1) but would basically mean a massive eight-point swing in the standings in Colorado’s favor.
The Mammoth played a textbook game in Langley last weekend, attacking with balance and using a strong transition game to present problems for the patchwork Stealth defense. They got the goaltending they needed from Dillon Ward and some timely goal scoring to keep a late Vancouver charge at bay.
John Grant Jr. passed Colin Doyle for second place on the all-time NLL scoring list, who had 1,334 points. He played the facilitator role last weekend despite having 15 shots of his own, spreading the goodwill en route to five assists and a goal. He had the power play in sync, but mostly had the benefits of a balanced scoring attack; seven players scored for Colorado and five had multiple goals.
As mentioned in the jump, Colorado’s transition game presented a lot of problems. Joey Cupido was one of the more impactful players of the game, scoring three and drawing a similar number of penalties. He was the one kickstarting Mammoth fast breaks and it gave the offense both the time and freedom to operate.
Colorado is a strong team in many facets, and have the game breakers to win close games. Another win would be a testament to their mentality if they want to contend for a Champion’s Cup.
The Stealth may as well be in must-win territory, because this game has much of that feel behind it.
Vancouver simply cannot afford to drop many more games against divisional opponents—they are 3-4 in division. But this is a game that means a lot more for the team’s playoff push as a three game difference will have them chasing Colorado for the rest of the season. A win tonight over the Mammoth would keep the Stealth in optimal position.
Things do appear to be getting better for the Stealth. They’re getting healthy, the offense generally does a great job, and their possession and loose ball stats have been improving. But they continue to be cursed by the lack of a full, 60-minute effort. It may seem cliche, but it’s the difference between scoring six of seven goals in the third quarter and still losing by three because of mental errors earlier in the game.
Rhys Duch became the Stealth’s all-time leading goal scorer with his three goal performance, but it’s the players around him who need to push a little harder to provide secondary goal scoring. Corey Small and Johnny Powless have found chemistry since Small’s arrival, but that’s been subdued as more defenses focus their pressure on Powless when the ball swings to the left hand side. They could stand to get some better performances on the offensive end from Cliff Smith and Joel McCready as well.
You can catch the game at 8 pm EST on TSN 5, TSNGO and WatchESPN.