By Tim Panaccio, Inquirer Staff Writer

Their top scorer, John Tucker, is sidelined with torn knee ligaments. All- world goalie Dwight Maetche is questionable after recuperating from a dislocated shoulder. And face-off specialist Bill Dirrigl has a prior coaching commitment and won’t be in uniform.

That’s how the Philadelphia Wings, the Major Indoor Lacrosse League’s defending champion, will open the playoffs tonight at 8 at the Spectrum against the New York Saints.

Whoever wins travels to Worcester, Mass., on April 13 (8 p.m.) to face the regular-season champion New England Blazers for the North American Cup title.

“This is an ugly way to go into the playoffs,” said Wings coach Dave Evans. “And we may have to face the two teams that beat us back-to-back. It’s the worst possible situation.”

Tucker’s absence concerns Evans the most. He led the club in scoring, with 13 goals and 23 points, before injuring his knee in a season-ending 8-5 loss to New York on March 24.

Even with Tucker, the Wings struggled to a 6-2 record this season. Their offense began to nose-dive at Baltimore on Feb. 17, when they squeaked through two overtimes to beat the lowly Thunder, 13-12. The following weekend, in Pittsburgh, the Wings had to go into overtime to defeat the equally inept Bulls, 10-9.

Last season, the Wings led the MILL in all offensive categories. This season, the club was down in every category, although defensively, the Wings improved in goals against average (10.4 versus 12.0):

* In 1989, five Wings scored in double figures, led by Brad Katz’s 28 goals and 44 overall points. This season, only three Wings scored in double figures.

* In 1989, the Wings led the MILL in goals per game average (15.3) but were third this season (11.1).

* In 1989, the Wings had three of the league’s top five scorers; this season, no one on the club finished among the top six.

None of these things will be much comfort tonight against the Saints, who possess the best fastbreak attack in the league. The Saints beat the Wings for three fastbreak goals in their last meeting. Evans says the Wings will have to be defense-conscious against New York.

For the Wings to advance, they’ll have to take better shots on Saints’ goalie Vinnie Pfeifer. In New York’s two-goalie system, Pfeifer plays the first half before yielding to Sal Loscasio. Pfeifer often drops to his knees, and as other clubs have found out, is vulnerable to shots above the hips. Loscasio is a standup goalie.

Dirrigl, who led the MILL in face-offs won (91) and winning face-off percentage (66.0), was unable to free himself of his assistant coaching duties at Loyola of Baltimore.

(Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7, 1990)

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