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There's No Tomorrow for Philadelphia as Wings Lose Wild-card Playoff Game to Washington 12-11

Sunday, March 31, 2002

By David Unkle
SJSports Staff Writer

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

-George Santayana

The Wings' quest to retain their hold on the National Lacrosse League's Champion's Cup ended last night in Philadelphia at the hands of the Washington Power in a 12-11 loss to the Eastern Division Champions. Unlike last week's game against the Toronto Rock which propelled them into the playoffs, Philadelphia came out with a less aggressive style of defense which would hurt them throughout the game and arguably cost them the opportunity to return to Toronto, the site where they captured the 2001 NLL Championship. Surrendering transition goals and power play goals coupled with weak second quarter play and the inability to chew up the clock when shorthanded has killed this team all season long and its reappearance last night gave the Power the opportunity to play lacrosse in April. Wings' Captain David Stilley commented: I don't know what it is; maybe it's because we come out with so much energy in the first quarter and we're catching our breath in the second quarter. That's been the case all year; we've got a lot of new guys in the lineup and we're all learning how to play with one another and in this game you can't have any have to stay on your guard the whole time and not make mental mistakes. I think that's what killed us; I think we're a better team than Washington but we have to give them credit. They dug it out on our home floor...We wanted to come out physical but Washington has an eighty percent power play efficiency rate so we didn't want to give them the man up because they will make you pay for it. Their a better power play unit than Toronto so we came out physical but we couldn't come out and goon it up like we did last week against Toronto.

Things started to look promising for Philadelphia when Jeff Ratcliffe (3 goals, 1 Assist) gave Philadelphia the lead at 5:16 on a play that saw the Wings' Tony Henderson and Brian Reese end up on the doorway floor of the Power's bench exchanging Easter festivities. Both players ended up with two minutes for roughing and Philadelphia had the 1-0 lead. In the regular season, the Wings' had a 4-1 record when scoring first (compared to 4-7 when allowing the first goal). Philadelphia went up 2-0 on crisp passing from Tom Slate to Jeff Ratcliffe who found Ryan Traynor alone in the slot at 7:45. The excitement however was short-lived as the Wings' began to unfold concurrent with the awakening of the Washington Power offense. Paul Cantabene's unassisted goal on a breakaway at 9:15 started the unraveling and would prove to foreshadow the outcome of the night's contest. Two Washington goals by Garry Gait (power play) and Josh Sims at 11:17 and 11:48 respectively, gave the Power their first lead of the night. The goal by Sims was the result of a strange play by the Wings' Jake Bergey who inadvertently left the ball for Sims to pick up and go in alone on Wings' goalie Dallas Eliuk. The Wings came roaring back with two goals in the last minute of play to go up 4-3. Jeff Ratcliffe made a nice deke on Power goalie Devin Dalep for his second goal of the night. With the teams playing 4 on 4 lacrosse following concurrent slashing minors on the Wings' Dave Stilley and Power's Fred Jenner and Dallas Eliuk pulled for the extra attacker, Jake Bergey's shot from point blank range gave Philadelphia the edge with 4 seconds left in the quarter.

The second quarter was similar to most second quarters this year: the Wings either lose a lead or get buried even deeper than they were at the end of the first quarter. The Power reeled off 4 unanswered goals in the early minutes of the quarter. Goals by Del Halladay and Josh Sims within five seconds of each other (3:46 and 3:51) gave the Power a 5-4 lead. The duo teamed up again at 4:31 and 4:56 to give the Power a 7-4 lead. The Wings' defense of Richard Brzeski and Peter Jacobs were outplayed on both of Halladay's goals. Tom Marechek stopped the bleeding (albeit briefly) for the Wings on his only goal of the night at 4:56 and Philadelphia was back to within two. Del Halladay completed the hat trick at 7:23 and Garry Gait's goal at 8:24 put Washington up 9-5 and left everyone wondering when Philadelphia's defense (and offensive back-checking) would return. Jeff Ratcliffe would get his hat trick at 10:59 but he had to work hard for it. After overpowering two Washington defenders and with the Power's John Rosa on his back, Ratcliffe fired a laser past Dalep and the score was 9-6 going into the half.

Like their display in the first quarter, the Wings came out with new found zest. Keith Cromwell's goal at 3:06 started another scoring frenzy followed by Tony Henderson's bizarre goal at 3:37. Henderson never controlled the ball and the ball appeared to ricochet off his stick on a shot from Kevin Finneran. Goals by Jake Bergey and Tony Henderson at 4:17 and 5:25 re-established Philadelphia's lead at 10-9 and the Philadelphia fans started to envision the journey back to Toronto. When Tom Slate scored a short-handed breakaway goal at 11:00 beating Washington's Hugh Donovan to the net, everyone started blowing the dust off of their passports. However the excitement was premature.

Garry Gait's third goal of the night at 0:28 left Washington down by one (11-10). Tom Slate and the Philadelphia defense was beaten on Bobby Horsey's goal at 5:11 and a feeling of uneasiness crept into the First Union Center. The ominous feeling proved to be true as Garry Gait's game-winner at 10:57 gave the Power a 12-11 lead that they would hold for the remainder of the game. An impotent offensive effort (eight shots on goal) left Philadelphia with no real opportunities to win the game and continue their defense of the Champions Cup.

The outcome can be pointed to many things: the Washington Power defense, the Wings' poor performance on offense in shorthanded situations, and an offense that was without Mark Millon (19G, 28A) in the game. You have to give credit to their [Washington Power's] defense; they were really packing it in and taking away the middle of the floor...when we did get shots the goalie stepped up big...they were the better team today, they made the plays that counted... What you need to have happen when you shut down the offense is for other guys to step up...we didn't get any goals from our fringe offensive player...I hate losing and so do the rest of my guys here but I have a good feeling in the back of my mind...we're a young team and everyone will be back next year licking their chops ready to get back to the elite commented Wings' Captain Dave Stilley. For the Wings' rookies the excitement of the playoffs and the pain of losing proved valuable. Being a first year player our goal is to get to the playoffs and win a championship every year and we did our job in the regular season...we had some ups and downs but we got to the playoffs and came up one goal short... Washington is a good team and they did their job tonight and beat us. In my first year, I found that anything can happen in this game said Richard Brzeski. Wings' Coach Adam Mueller's summarized the team's performance in shorthanded situations: It comes down to composure and knowing what we want to do...In the first half they had goals on the power play and on the transition. We take those goals away and it's our game to lose. We corrected those mistakes in the second half, but we couldn't put the ball in the net in the fourth quarter...we need to really focus the guys and know that we can win [one goal games].

Photos by Pedro Cancel

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