NLL: West Conference Final heads to decisive game three

Austin Staats looks for a shot in the West Conference Final. (Photo credit: Colorado Mammoth/NLL)

It was win or go home for the San Diego Seals on Saturday night. The Colorado Mammoth came in on a high after beating the Seals in game one of the West Conference Final on the road. With a chance to clinch a spot in this year’s finals, and with Ball Arena behind them, the Mammoth liked their chances.

Dynamic duo Austin Staats and Dane Dobbie said not tonight. The high powered offensive pairing combined for nine of the Seals’ 11 goals, as San Diego forced game three, winning 11-10 in overtime. If you don’t believe in magic, Dobbie may have made you a believer after this one.

San Diego forward Jeremy Noble was asked before the game about what he and the Seals needed to do to get to Dillon Ward early. Noble kept it short and sweet saying, “he’s a great goalie, right? I think volume of shots and velocity on shots.”

This contest was very much back and forth, as the biggest lead was only three goals at one point. Eli McLaughlin opened the scoring for the Mammoth on a textbook pick and roll. Staats answered with two goals of his own. The first was a patient drive to the net with multiple head fakes and the second was an absolute rocket on the power play. Dobbie got his first of the night and McLaughlin got his second to make it 3-2 Seals after one. Spoiler alert, you’re going to hear those three names a lot in this one.

Double spoiler, don’t expect any new names in the goal column in the second quarter either. Dobbie got his second of the night just about two minutes into the frame. The next goal wasn’t scored until the 4:21 mark, by guess who? Dobbie, giving him the hat trick. In that scoring lull there were a ton of shots, great transition play, and phenomenal goaltending by both Frank Scigliano and Ward. McLaughlin got his hat trick with about three minutes to play, to make it 5-3 Seals at the half.

Both goaltenders had very solid first halves, as Scigliano stopped 19 of 22 and Ward stopped 24 of 29.

“Our backs are against the wall, it’s do or die and we’ve got a group of guys that don’t want to not see each other next weekend,” Dobbie said at halftime.

Dobbie also commented on how he’s been able to beat Ward saying, “you just have to find angles against Dillon, he’s a hell of a goalie. You just have to find looks and keep your feet moving.”

Colorado had to figure out a way to beat Scigliano and get back into the game. What better of a way than to pop off a four-goal run to start the third quarter. With goals from Dylan Kinnear, Brett McIntyre, Tyson Gibson and Joey Cupido, all of a sudden the Mammoth were up 7-5 with 6:29 to play in the frame. Staats took matters into his own hands and tied the game up with his third and fourth goals of the night. 7-7 going into the fourth.

The fourth quarter started, the tit-for-tat continued, and so did McLaughlin’s outstanding performance. Eli got his fourth and fifth of the night to put the Mammoth up 9-7 with 8:48 left to play. McLaughlin’s fourth goal was on the powerplay. A name we haven’t heard yet is Zack Greer. Greer, who was activated that morning, scored two and Staats got his fifth to give the lead back to San Diego with 3:06 left. It was crunch time for Colorado if they wanted to close this one out. Who but Eli McLaughlin. Number 51 completed his “sock trick” and more importantly tied the game up with under a minute to go. And yes, there were a plethora of socks thrown on the field. 10-10 going into overtime. This is playoff lacrosse boys and girls. Whew.

Staats thought he had the winner in OT, however after video review, it showed that his foot was just in the crease. Cue the magic. Coming off a timeout, San Diego took possession of the ball in the Colorado zone. Greer fired an errant pass into the corner, which was scooped up by Dobbie. Dobbie spun away from a defender, while driving to the front of the net and fired a behind-the-back shot, beating Ward. Dane Dobbie, are you kidding? Your final, 11-10. See you back in San Diego for game three.

Players of the game for San Diego were Staats (5 goals), Dobbie (4+2), and Scigliano, who stood tall late, stopping 42 of 52 on the night. Wesley Berg and Jeremy Noble were big contributors as well, with five assists each. As for Colorado, McLaughlin (6+1), Gibson (1+2) and Kinnear (1+2), led the way. Ward also had quite the game, stopping 41 of 52.

Head coach of the Seals, Patrick Merrill, commented on the game as a whole, as well as the overtime period: “We worked extremely hard trying to get to the net. We knew we had to earn opportunities with how their defense and Dillon were playing. We just had guys take it upon themselves. We had some quality chances, and I think we earned that bounce at the end.”

Every goal for San Diego was scored by a lefty. Merrill commented on that saying, “at the end of the day, we have a lot of different types of weapons. It just so happened that our lefties stepped up for us tonight. It was a total team effort.”

Staats was asked about the “no goal” at the beginning of the overtime period. “It always hurts when you think you won the game for the fellas. But the ball don’t lie. We went out there two, three shifts later and put the ball in the net. I’ve got a good feeling about this little run here.”

This win for San Diego ties the series up, and they get to go back home for a crucial game three. Both teams presumably will have a lot to look at and clean up going into an elimination game. Game three will be at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Saturday May 28th at 10pm.