NLL: Colorado roars back to force game deciding game three in NLL Finals

Buffalo Bandits v Colorado Mammoth 06-11-22, Ball Arena (Photo credit: Jack Dempsey/National Lacrosse League)

It was do-or-die for the Colorado Mammoth in game two of the NLL Finals on Saturday night. If that wasn’t enough pressure going in, only a few hours before the game, it was announced that dynamic forward Eli McLaughlin was placed on the IR. Huge blow to the Mammoth, right? Wrong. In front of 10,082 of the Loud House faithful, the Mammoth were led by Zed Williams and Connor Robinson. So much so, that as far as goal scorers are concerned, you won’t read anyone else’s name here until the fourth quarter.

This contest was very much back-and-forth until the final quarter, when Colorado went on a five-goal run to seal the deal in game two. Your final from Ball Arena, 11-8 Mammoth.

Robinson talked before the game about the Mammoth’s win over Buffalo earlier in the year and how he and the rest of the team would ensure that happens again. “Our coaches drew up a great plan for us to come out and attack and fix some things from last week,” he said.

Robinson also commented on being back at the Loud House saying, “it feels awesome, these fans are awesome. We got a packed barn tonight, it should be loud, crazy, and a repeat of game one.”

The first quarter’s story was everything except for goal scoring. Stifling defense? Check. Quality transition play? Check. Stout goaltending? Absolutely. The quarter’s only goal came just over two minutes in as Williams found himself alone in front of the net. Zed scores on that probably 10 times out of 10, and this time was no different. There wasn’t so much a “feeling out” process, rather it was tit-for-tat. Every move a team made, it was copied or shut down by the opposition. 1-0 Mammoth after one.

The second quarter saw the scoring pick up. The yin to Williams’ yang, Robinson got his first of the night right away. Buffalo needed an answer and fast. The Loud House was rocking and Dillon Ward was a brick wall. What better than a five-goal run of their own. With goals from Ian MacKay, Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier on the powerplay, and two from Dhane Smith, Buffalo found themselves up 5-2 with 4:35 to play in the frame. Williams stopped the bleeding for the Mammoth with quite the snipe from the slot, giving him two on the night. Byrne and Robinson each got their second as well, making the score 6-4 going into the half. Byrne’s second was vintage “Air Byrne” as he found himself jumping way up in front of Ward.

Both goaltenders were phenomenal in the first half. Matt Vinc stopped 20 of 24, while Ward went 22 of 28. Both teams had stingy transition play as well, as there were very few breakaway opportunities for either team.

The third quarter started and the scoring went quiet again. Williams got his hat trick on a nice twister shot, only to be answered by Cloutier getting his second just 19 seconds later. Robinson got his hat trick with a sweeping outdoor-esque shot. That goal from Robinson was at the 11:27 mark in the third, and would be the last goal scored in the frame. From there on, more stout goaltending and stifling defense was the story. 7-6 Buffalo going into the fourth.

The final quarter of an elimination game, or a championship game, makes a team show what they’re made of. Buffalo had to stay ahead for just 15 more minutes. Colorado needed to match Buffalo’s ability to score in bunches and keep their championship hopes alive. It turned out the latter was the story. The first goal of the fourth was scored by Kyle Buchanan. Usually the smallest guy on the floor, Bucky plays with one of the biggest hearts. After an arid shot, Buchanan crashed the net and put the loose ball in to give Buffalo a two-goal cushion. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times, lacrosse is a game of runs. Cue the Mammoth’s pivotal five-goal run. Brett McIntyre scored two, Williams got his fourth, Tyson Gibson and Dylan Kinnear each got one, to make it 11-8 Colorado. The rest is history.

Players of the game for Buffalo were Byrne (2+2), Smith (2+1) and Cloutier (2+1). Vinc was a brick wall through the first three and a half quarters. But, that last half of the fourth quarter proved to be his and Buffalo’s downfall. Vinc stopped 33 of 44 on the night. As for Colorado, Robinson (3+1), Williams (4+3) and McIntyre (2+4) led the way. With all that being said, the first star of the game (not surprisingly) was Dillon Ward. Ward had himself arguably the best game of his career, on the biggest stage of them all. The big goaltender stopped 40 of 48 on the night, and 10 of 11 in the fourth quarter.

Zed Williams spoke after the game about the team’s effort and having guys step up on a huge stage. “Everyone stepped up, everyone was awesome. We play hard, we play as a team, and that’s all we ask for, next man step up.” Williams also thanked the crowd and commended them on their energy all year, as this was the last time the Mammoth will play in front of their home crowd this season.

Head coach of the Mammoth, Pat Coyle, praised Dillon Ward after the game. “Dillon was awesome. For us to win, I think we need that from Dillon. You see so much press about Vino being like the best goalie in the league, which man he is awesome too, but we’ve always felt like our goalie is the best in the league.”

Both the Buffalo Bandits and the Colorado Mammoth must have some stock in local hospitals and doctors offices. Assuredly, it can be said for everyone that high blood pressure and heart palpitations have been quite prevalent in this series so far. Get used to that feeling because we have a game three to play. The stage is set, winner take all. Game three is at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, next Saturday at 7:30pm. Buckle up.