At long last, playoffs.
For the first time since they moved to Langley for the 2014 season, the Vancouver Stealth are going to the National Lacrosse League playoffs.
The Stealth booked their ticket for the six-team dance next month with a 13-7 victory over the visiting Colorado Mammoth at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday night, rewarding their home crowd who have not had much to cheer these past three and a half seasons.
Vancouver was winless in their first four games at the LEC but have now won four of their past five home contests as they improved to 8-9 overall with one regular season game remaining, next Saturday on the road against the New England Black Wolves.
A Stealth victory in that game — provided the Mammoth (9-8) lose their contest the night before — would mean Vancouver would finish ahead of Colorado and host their West Division semifinal game. If not, that playoff game would be contested in Denver.
Saturday’s game saw Colorado jump out to a 3-1 lead in the first 13 minutes before Vancouver held them scoreless over the next 16:27 while also going on a 6-0 run of their own.
By the time the Mammoth found the back of the net in the final minute of the first half, it was 7-4 Stealth going into the dressing room.
Colorado would come out of the gates flying in the second half, tallying twice in the opening three minutes. The Stealth’s Corey Small and the Mammoth’s Brad Self traded goals. But after Self scored at the 8:13 mark of the third quarter to make it 8-7 Vancouver, the Stealth defence and goaltending would shut the door the rest of the way while James Rahe and Thomas Hoggarth scored goals nine seconds apart to open up some separation.
Colorado was kept off the scoresheet for the final 22:47 of the game, meaning their two scoring slumps spanned 39:04, or nearly two-thirds of the 60-minute contest.
Stealth goaltender Tye Belanger finished with 52 saves, including 30 in the second half, to earn the game’s first star.
“The defence was playing aggressive in front of me and were soaking a lot of shots and getting into the shooting lanes,” Belanger said.
‘They were laying their body out on the line and I appreciate that.”
Belanger now leads the NLL with a .795 save percentage.
Logan Schuss and Small each had three goals and four assists and were second and third stars, respectively.
Small’s seven points helped him surpass the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career.
And Schuss seems to have rediscovered his offensive game. After scoring just three times combined in the previous six, Schuss had found the back of the net eight times in the last two games.
He credited some extra practice time and the fact some minor lacrossse teams at home in Ladner where gracious enough to share their floor time.
“I didn’t change my shot but once it started to fall it gave me more confidence,” Schuss said.
Rhys Duch had two goals and four helpers, while Peter McFetridge, James Rahe, Evan Messenger and Justin Salt had a goal apiece.