“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk
All Lacrosse All The Time – A Division of Edge of Philly Sports Network
After 26 weeks and 135 games, the best-of-three NLL Finals have arrived. The Buffalo Bandits were the Beast of the East, going 14-4 in the regular season, then beating Albany and sweeping Toronto in the playoffs. The Colorado Mammoth showed they were the Best in the West by breaking a long-time playoff curse against Calgary, then taking 2 road games from San Diego.
These two teams met previously in the first week of April, with the Mammoth winning a 15-14 shootout that ignited a late season three game win streak for Colorado, and a 1-3 finish to the regular season for the Bandits. Similarly, Game 1 of the NLL Finals Saturday night at Key Bank Center in Buffalo lived up to all the hype, and did not disappoint. In a game that saw seven players record individual hat tricks, the Bandits held off the Mammoth 15-14 to take a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 will be next Saturday at Ball Arena in Denver.
The Forecast? Lots of Flurries
The first goal of the finals came from arguably the most unlikely of places. Mammoth forward Brett McIntyre, in the playoff lineup as a result of the season-ending injury to leading scorer Ryan Lee, opened the scoring 55 seconds into the game. The Bandits would respond with a 5-goal run into the second quarter. Josh Byrne (3g, 4a; 2:14) equalized, then Dhane Smith (3g, 4a) gave Buffalo their first lead with a power play goal at 7:29. The Bandits extended the lead to 4-1 when Connor Fields (14:11) and Smith (14:16) scored just five seconds apart. Chase Fraser opened the second quarter scoring, beating Colorado netminder Dillon Ward at 1:43 to make it 5-1.
The Mammoth cut the lead to two, with Connor Robinson (3g, 6a; 2:27) and Zed Williams (4g, 4a; 7:19) finding twine behind Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc. Tehoka Nanticoke (5g, 2a; 7:42) and Eli McLaughlin (3g, 5a; 8:08) traded goals to make it 6-4. Smith’s hat trick goal (8:50) and Nanticoke’s second (9:04) extended Buffalo’s lead to four, but it was short-lived once again. Williams netted his second (9:45), McLaughlin’s second on a power play (10:11), and McIntyre’s second thirty seconds later closed the gap to 8-7.
Nanticoke (11:49) would notch his hat trick after what appeared to be an errant shot bounced off the boards, then off the back of Ward’s leg and into the net. Robinson would respond for Colorado with his second (12:47). Fields appeared to have his second of the night with just over a minute left to play, but Colorado head coach Pat Coyle threw a challenge flag. Replays showed Fields’s diving twister got past Ward, but never crossed the goal line, and it remained a one-goal game going into halftime.
Hat Trick Bonanza
Nanticoke (4:30; 5:30) added his fourth and fifth of the night, before another flurry of goals in in the last four minutes of the third quarter. McLaughlin (11:12) would score his hat trick goal. Byrne responded with a behind the back laser for his second 22 seconds later. McIntyre (12:01) recorded his first career hat trick less than 30 seconds after that. A minute later (13:07), Chris Wardle scored off a broken play to reduce Buffalo’s lead to one, 12-11 with 15 minutes left to play.
Colorado continued to rack up the hat tricks in the final frame, with Robinson securing his at 2:19 to tie the game again. Just as they seemingly always did during the regular season, the Bandits would again find a way to end an opposing run after a tying goal. Chris Cloutier (1g, 1a; 5:57) restored Buffalo’s lead with a wraparound dunk. Williams (8:23) would tie it with his hat trick goal. Byrne (11:36) quick-sticked a low shot from a narrow angle past Ward to make it 14-13. Williams tied it again with his fourth of the night (13:03).
Unfortunately for Colorado, a miscommunication on their next to last possession led to the Bandits’ game-winning goal. After a last second shot on the possession sailed back toward the center line, the refs stopped play for a shot clock violation, then immediately restarted play. Bandits defenseman Nick Weiss, already near the center line, ran up the floor in transition, as the Mammoth forwards were getting off the floor. The defense could not catch up, and Weiss beat Ward stick side to make it 15-14 with 51 seconds remaining. Colorado would have one last chance as time wound down, and in a bit of “Toronto series” deja vu, Vinc again found himself making a last-second save. This time, it was McLaughlin who was unchecked on the doorstep, but his cross-crease dive attempt was turned away, and the Bandits escaped with a one-goal victory for the third time this postseason. Buffalo can secure its fifth championship with a win in either of the next two games.
3 Stars of the Game
- 1st Star: Nick Weiss (1g, 3 caused turnovers)
- 2nd Star: Tehoka Nanticoke
- 3rd Star: Connor Robinson
Other Stats of Note
- Power Play: COL 1 of 2; BUF 1 of 3
- Williams (COL), Steve Priolo (BUF): Led all players with 10 loose balls each
- Ward (COL), Vinc (BUF): 40 saves each
- Max Adler (BUF): 19 of 30 on faceoffs
- 109 shots total were taken during the game; transition players accounted for just six of those shots
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“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk was formally introduced to box lacrosse when he attended a New England Black Wolves game on a whim in 2016. Instantly hooked, he has since become an avid follower of the National Lacrosse League. Following the postponement of the 2019-2020 NLL season, he was offered the chance to share his wealth of statistical knowledge and unique insights with the lacrosse community at large. He cheerfully accepted, and currently serves as Edge of Philly’s correspondent for both the Albany FireWolves and New York Riptide.