The Colorado Mammoth hosted the Buffalo Bandits in Game 2 of the NLL Finals at Ball Arena in Denver on Saturday night. Needing a win to force a deciding Game 3, Colorado received some bad news earlier in the day. Leading playoff scorer Eli McLaughlin was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs with an injury. This development could certainly have doomed Colorado’s hopes of winning their first championship since 2006. Instead, it became the focal point of a late rally, with the Mammoth outscoring Buffalo 7-2 in the second half to win 11-8, tying the best-of-three series at one game apiece.
Zed and Connor’s Half-Hour Power Hour
Zed Williams (4g, 3a) opened the scoring, beating Bandits netminder Matt Vinc at 2:47. It would turn out to be the only goal of the first quarter, with an equalizing goal by Bandits forward Josh Byrne called off due to a crease violation. Buffalo challenged the ruling, but video replays showed that Byrne’s foot touched down inside the crease prior to the ball crossing the goal line. It would be just the fourth time this season that Buffalo endured a scoreless quarter of play. It also appeared the referees were opting to call only the most egregious of infractions on players, letting the players play through tough, physical shifts.
Connor Robinson (3g, 1a) would increase the lead to 2-0 at 1:18 of the second quarter. The Bandits would respond in typical fashion, netting six of the next seven goals against the team with the worst second quarter goal differential this postseason. Dhane Smith (2g, 1a) would beat Colorado goaltender Dillon Ward at 4:30. Ian MacKay (8:00) then buried one in transition to tie the game. Smith’s second goal (9:00) after a nifty move while isolated on rookie defender Jalen Chaster would give Buffalo their first lead. Byrne (2g, 2a) got on the board 26 seconds later, and Chris Cloutier (2g, 1a; 10:25) scored a power play goal a minute after Byrne. Suddenly, a two-goal deficit was now a 5-2 Buffalo lead.
Williams (12:08) would tally his second goal, with Byrne getting his second in the last minute of first-half play (14:11). As time wound down, Robinson (14:58) would strike again, beating Vinc as he circled to the wrong side of the floor with just two seconds remaining in the half. Although down 6-4 at halftime, it was difficult not to wonder whether the buzzer-beating goal would swing the game momentum towards the Mammoth.
The Usual Suspects?
Williams scored his hat trick goal just 1:09 into the third quarter. Cloutier responded with his second goal 20 seconds later. Robinson (3:33) joined the hat trick party and made it 7-6. The Bandits nearly had another goal late in the third quarter when Tehoka Nanticoke fired a desperation shot from outside the restraining line as the offense was exiting the floor. The shot trickled past Ward, but reviews showed that the 30-second clock had already expired, nullifying the goal. Buffalo would score the next goal anyway, with Kyle Buchanan (1g, 1a) scooping up a rebound and finding twine 46 seconds into the final frame to extend the Bandits’ lead to 8-6.
Once again, it seemed as though game momentum had shifted, this time to Buffalo as they appeared poised to lift the NLL Cup for the first time since 2008 inside the Loud House. However, unlike their second quarter woes, the Mammoth own the highest fourth quarter goal differential of any playoff team this postseason. While the entirety of their scoring through the first 45 minutes was via Williams and Robinson, the cavalry showed up with a five-goal run over the final 12 minutes to close the game.
Brett McIntyre (2g, 4a; 3:06) snuck one through a screen and past Vinc to narrow the margin to 8-7. A minute later (4:04), Williams went top cheese with a low-to-high rocket for his fourth goal of the night to tie the game. As the Bandits found their offense sputtering, the Mammoth transition game finally kicked into gear. Tyson Gibson took a feed from Joey Cupido and fired a pass across the crease to Dylan Kinnear for the go-ahead quick-stick goal at the 5:10 mark.
With the Buffalo defense still keying in on Williams and Robinson, Gibson (1g, 3a; 7:47) found himself alone on the doorstep after Williams was double-teamed, and beat Vinc short side to give Colorado a two-goal lead. McIntyre (8:41) would add his second goal a minute later to end the improbable Colorado victory. The decisive Game 3 will be at Key Bank Center in Buffalo next Saturday night, where one of these teams will end an extended championship drought by lifting the NLL Cup.
3 Stars of the Game
- 1st Star: Dillon Ward (40 saves)
- 2nd Star: Zed Williams
- 3rd Star: Connor Robinson
Other Stats of Note
- Power Play: BUF 1 of 1; COL 0 of 3
- Loose Balls: BUF 61; COL 53
- Priolo (BUF): 10 loose balls (led all players)
- Max Adler (BUF): 17-23 on faceoffs
- Tehoka Nanticoke/Chase Fraser/Connor Fields (BUF): 0 goals
- Official Ian Garrison left the game early in the first half with an injury; replaced by Justin Kitashima
- Buffalo defender Nick Weiss took two minor penalties and a major penalty near the end of the game for high hit on Robinson as the clock was running out. The multitude of infractions could potentially affect the Game 1 hero’s availability for Game 3 next Saturday.
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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.