They both finished with identical 9-9 but it is a battle of two teams going in opposite directions and it all comes down to a one-game playoff this Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
For much of the season, the Vancouver Stealth were closer to missing the post-season than to actually hosting a playoff game.
But the Stealth won their final three games and four of the last five to steal home-floor advantage away from the Colorado Mammoth.
The Mammoth finished the National Lacrosse League with back-to-back losses and five defeats in their final eight games.
“It is pretty surreal to think we get a home playoff game out of this season after the rough start we had and not even being in the playoffs three, four weeks ago,” said Stealth forward Logan Schuss. “It is pretty sweet.”
Of course, all of that is out the window as the two teams meet on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the LEC in a one-game West Division semifinal contest.
The victor faces the Saskatchewan Rush (12-6) the following weekend in a best-of-three series.
Vancouver won a back-and-forth high-scoring affair to close the regular season on Saturday night, going on the road and knocking off the New England Black Wolves 17-16 in overtime after Corey Small tied the game with 18 seconds to go and then won it in overtime.
Colorado had played the night before at home to the Rush, but dropped a 10-9 decision. A win would have given the Mammoth second-place and the right to host the Stealth in the playoffs.
Playing at home is important, especially coming off a week where they made a long trip, said Stealth head coach Jamie Batley, pointing out what happened when the team played on short rest in mid-March.
That week saw Vancouver win on a Sunday in Colorado but fall flat at home five days later against Buffalo.
“Now we get an extra day of rest,” Batley said.
The regular season saw Vancouver win three of four head-to-head meetings against Colorado, including when the teams last met on April 22, a 13-7 victory at the LEC.
“We have been playing our best lacrosse when we are well prepared,” Schuss said.
“When we stick to our game plan and let the game come to us rather than going out and trying to do too much.”
Earlier this season, Batley stated that his team’s magic number is 12 — hold a team below that threshold and they should be able to win.
And sure enough, Vancouver was 8-1 when holding the opposition under a dozen goals, with the only loss coming at the hands of Colorado, a 10-9 overtime setback.
The other three times the teams squared off saw Vancouver win by multi-goals — 15-9, 10-6 and 13-7 — with the Mammoth failing to reach double digits. And for the team to have success, it all starts with their play in their own end.
“We have to play a great defensive game,” Batley said.
Goals should be hard to come by as the NLL’s top two goalies according to save percentage will be manning their respective creases.
Vancouver’s Tye Belanger — fresh off an eye-popping 66-save performance — was tops in that category with a .796 save percentage while Colorado’s Dillon Ward was right behind at .793. Ward was second with a 10.89 goals against average while Belanger was fourth at 11.28.
Colorado also allowed the least amount of goals (199) among the nine NLL teams.
The trio of Rhys Duch (15 goals, 12 assists), Corey Small (eight goals, 17 assists) and Schuss (10 goals, nine assists) led Vancouver in head-to-head scoring against Colorado, averaging a combined 19 points per game against the Mammoth.
“We are our team’s three top scorers and we are supposed to be putting up points every game for our team to be successful,” Schuss said.
But what really helps is the team is the fact they are getting secondary scoring from their transition game.
Justin Salt had a career year with 11 goals and 28 points while Peter McFetridge’s seven goals were the most he has had since 2012.
“With some of our D guys stepping up to score, it just makes our team that much more dangerous,” Schuss said.
Vancouver will also get a pair of key players back this week as defenders Matt Beers and Cliff Smith both sat out last week due to one-game suspensions they received for altercations in the final minute of the game against the Mammoth on April 22.