The Colorado Mammoth dropped a close 12-11 overtime loss to the Saskatchewan Rush Saturday night as Colorado’s regular season is quickly coming to a close. But, with Panther City dropping a 13-12 final to the Calgary Roughnecks, the Mammoth will now be in control of its own playoff seeding destiny, as it just needs to record a win next weekend against San Diego to secure the West Conference’s No. 3 seed.
Standout rookie forward Clark Walter got the home team on the board first. Early in the set, Walter received a couple of picks while rolling to his left and eventually found some space. Firing a long-range laser on net, he beat netminder Dillon Ward to establish an early lead for the Rush.
Following nearly 10 minutes of scoreless play, Zed Williams found some space of his own and used his defenseman to help screen rookie goaltender Laine Hruska. Faking his defender inside, Zed sent a fierce overhand bid to beat the youngster in his first start, tying the game at 1-1.
A familiar face in veteran forward Rhys Duch was able to find twine with 20 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, which began a quick three-goal stint for the green and black squad. Ryan Keenan was able to convert nearly four minutes into second quarter, only before Duch followed it up less than a minute later with his second of the night.
As the scoring continued, it was time for Connor Robinson to get on the scoresheet. Just 64 seconds later, lefties Dylan Kinnear and Robinson ran the two-man game to perfection, as Kinnear drew a slide from a nearby defenseman while Robinson was sprung free. Alone outside the crease, he quickly beat Hruska to log his 33rd of the campaign.
Killing some of the momentum, though, defenseman Matt Beers finished a successful draw for Saskatchewan after collecting a pass from Mike Messenger and beating Ward up high. Drawing a late roughing penalty after the whistle, Colorado earned a power-play opportunity, and quickly cashed it in, as forward Eli McLaughlin began what would be a career-best evening less than a minute into the extra-man opportunity by logging his first of the night. Twelve minutes later, he doubled down after Williams found a wide-open McLaughlin cutting toward the net and sent a sick behind-the-back pass to a crease-side Liger, who quickly beat Hruska to create a 5-4 game.
Summoning their best Calgary Roughnecks impersonation in the transition game, the back-enders continued to stay involved, as defenseman Mike Messenger connected with a surging Mark Matthews, who finished another end-to-end effort. Saskatchewan took a 6-4 lead into the break.
Completing his hat trick and marking his third-straight for Colorado, McLaughlin finished a back-side dunk play after receiving a perfect dish from Robinson.
Five minutes later, it was all Rush, as Keenen secured his second of the night six and a half minutes into the third. Less than a minute later, veteran Robert Church added to the run with a power-play conversion. Now three in a row, Church beat Ward again three minutes later as he extended the Rush’s lead to four, at 9-5.
But as usual, Colorado wouldn’t go quietly. Putting his dance moves on display, Kinnear wove his way in and out of traffic over the course of six or seven seconds before making his way back toward the net and placing on in the back of the net. Drawing an extra-man opportunity 32 seconds later, McLaughlin netted his fourth of the night during a delayed 6-on-5 to bring the Mammoth back within two.
As the back-and-forth affair continued, the Rush’s Ryan Barnable finished a sloppy play with a lucky bounce with 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Entering the final 15 down 10-7, Colorado still had some work to do. This time, it was Mammoth forward Tyson Gibson working the two-man game with Williams. When Williams drew nearly three men as he advanced an attack, he quickly slipped a nice pass to a crease-side Gibson, who tapped one in to bring Colorado back within two.
Robert Church was able to restore Saskatchewan’s lead to three five minutes later, but the goal would represent the home team’s last in the opening 60. Three minutes later, it was Liger time, as McLaughlin went on to record three-consecutive tallies for the streaking Mammoth squad. With goals at the 10:38, 12:43 and 14:08 mark, he single-handedly forced an overtime session by completing his sock trick, plus one.
The first saw the talented forward come across a series of picks, all the way to the left side of the floor, where he stopped and fired. The second came in diving fashion, as McLaughlin collected a spicy rebound and immediately put it in the back of the net. Then, with 51 seconds remaining, No. 51 logged his seventh of the night in transition with a fierce step-down saucer. With the remaining minute of play expiring without any further scores, the dramatic West Conference bout required an overtime session.
After each team got a chance to seal the deal, Saskatchewan was able to convert on its second opportunity of the extra session, as Church logged his fourth of the night via the game-winner.
Despite the loss, Colorado will face the San Diego Seals next weekend to determine its playoff path, while the Saskatchewan Rush will face the Las Vegas Desert Dogs next weekend before missing the postseason for the second-straight year.
Eli McLaughlin paced all Mammoth scorers with eight points (7g, 1a) including a career-best seven goals, while Connor Robinson (1g, 5a), Tyson Gibson (1g, 4a) and Zed Williams (1g, 3a) rounded out top scoring efforts for Colorado. Dylan Kinnear chipped in a goal (1g, 1a), while forward Brett McIntyre (0g, 2a) kept his point streak alive with a pair of helpers.
Now 9-8, with one final regular season matchup against the San Diego Seals looming, Colorado will prepare for next weekend’s battle against a familiar foe as the 2023 postseason picture is solidified. With either a road matchup against the Seals or Roughnecks on deck for the NLL Quarterfinals, next weekend’s matchup could have huge implications on how the West plays out.