NLL Playoffs: Rush vs. Stealth breakdown
The NLL West Division rivals appear to be evenly matched heading into Saturday's playoff game
The teams are virtually even offensively. The Rush scored 203 goals in the regular season, the Stealth 193. Edmonton is led by forwards Ryan Ward (21 goals, 54 assists), Mark Matthews (38 goals, 31 assists) and Corey Small (28 goals, 36 assists).
Washington forward Rhys Duch is the NLL regular-season goal-scoring champion with 45. He also dished out 51 assists for a team-high 96 points. Duch is the Stealth's go-to offensive threat, but he has help in the person of left-handed forward Lewis Ratcliff (31 goals, 36 assists). The Stealth need a good showing out of forwards Athan Iannucci (22 goals, 25 assists) and Cliff Smith (15 goals, 30 assists). Both were outstanding at times during the regular season but lacked consistency. If they are on their games, the edge goes to Washington.
Edmonton gave up 170 goals in the regular season to the Stealth's 192, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The Rush gave the Stealth's offense fits in all three games the teams played. Stealth head coach Chris Hall said the biggest key to Saturday's game will be figuring out the Rush defense.
Washington has one of the younger defenses in the league, but the unit is anchored by veterans Kyle Sorensen, Curtis Hodgson and Mike Grimes. The mixture of youth and crafty veterans has served the Stealth well all season. When everyone is healthy, the Stealth field one of the toughest teams in the league to score on.
The numbers appear equal here, too, but there is one stat that stands out -- save percentage.
Edmonton starter Aaron Bold is 8-5 with a 10.58 goals against average, but he has just a .744 save percentage. Washington starter Tyler Richards is 8-5 with a 10.92 goals against average but owns a .795 percentage.
Bold has had a great season for the defending West Division champions, but Richards has been right there with Rochester's Matt Vinc as the best goaltender in the league. Richards has been outstanding for most of the season, with just one or two hiccups along the way.
Edmonton scores on 49.3 percent of its power plays and kills a league-worst 40.4 percent. Washington started the season slowly, but the power play has improved and the Stealth are up to a 45.9 percent success rate. The Stealth are one of the best penalty-kill units in the league at 49.3 percent.
The Rush won two of three games from the Stealth in the regular season, but the Stealth are at home, so really this is anyone's game. The difference likely will be the play of Richards. He has to be in the conversation for the league's Most Valuable Player award and he seems to be committed to helping his team win another championship.
Prediction: Stealth 11, Rush 9
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