The Colorado Mammoth registered a 14-12 victory over the San Diego Seals in Game 1 of the West Conference Finals Friday evening at Pechanga Arena. Despite being without forward Ryan Lee, Colorado’s offensive unit didn’t skip a step, as the team produced three, four and five-goal nights from the potent trio of Eli McLaughlin, Connor Robinson and Zed Williams, respectively. The Mammoth will now host the Seals May 21 at Ball Arena for a potential NLL Finals-clinching Game 2 of the West Conference Finals.
“You can’t replace Ryan – He’s our leader,” Mammoth forward Zed Williams shared in a postgame interview. “He’s been balling out for us all year – it’s very emotional and we had to play with that emotion tonight for Ryan … but it’s just Game 1. It’s not over.”
Eli McLaughlin paced Mammoth scorers with eight points (3g, 5a), while Zed Williams’ career-best five goals (5g, 1a) led Colorado Friday night. Connor Robinson (4g, 2a), Chris Wardle (0g, 4a), Tyson Gibson (0g, 4a), Dylan Kinnear (1g, 2a) and Joey Cupido rounded out scoring efforts for Colorado.
On the defensive end, Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward stopped 36-of-48, while the defensive unit limited Wes Berg to three points (1g, 2a) and Austin Staats to five (1g, 4a), albeit just one goal from the potent offensive threat. While Dane Dobbie was able to record seven (3g, 4a), the crafty veteran drew a crucial penalty in the contest’s final 70 seconds, thus taking the air out of San Diego’s potential 6-on-5 opportunity while rendering the squad a man short for the duration.
Following a contest-opening draw win from faceoff specialist Tim Edwards, who secured 19-of-30 on the night (63.33%), the Mammoth were able to get on the board during the team’s first possession, when Colorado forward Zed Williams sent a far-side bouncer past Seals’ netminder Frank Scigliano 36 seconds into the game and as the Mammoth’s shot clock was close to expiring.
Just over a minute later, San Diego forward Austin Staats received a pass from teammate Dane Dobbie and followed the forward into a congested area near the point before firing and finding some top shelf love while beating Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward. Staats’ marker began a successful three-goal streak for the Seals, as Wes Berg was able to convert at the 3:03 mark and was quickly followed up by a Casey Jackson power-play goal five minutes into the opening quarter in what began as a high-scoring contest.
With all-star forward Ryan Lee missing Friday’s contest with a lower-body injury, Williams knew that the right side of the offense would be missing production, but it wasn’t going to be on his account, as the forward dragged two defenseman to the crease and again beat Scigliano on the far side by slamming one around the goaltender despite being draped with a double-team effort.
Following up on his five-goal outing the previous weekend in Calgary, Connor Robinson wanted a turn lighting the lamp, as the lefty received a pick from roommate Eli McLaughlin and once he recognized his window, sent a laser from the left point to tie the game at threes on Colorado’s next possession.
After spending the last four games marked as a transition player and regularly serving shifts with the defensive unit, rookie Tre Leclaire reminded lacrosse fans that he’s very much still capable of playing in the O-zone, as the first-year re-established a one-goal lead for San Diego at the 8:45 mark. Casey Jackson recorded his second goal of the contest nearly two minutes later by taking advantage of a little bit of space on the left side, giving the Seals a two-goa advantage heading into the second.
Despite a few quality looks from San Diego’s offense early in the second, Connor Robinson completed his first-half hat trick with a pair of early second-quarter tallies. The first was initially stopped by Scigliano, but bounced vertically over the goaltender and into the net before nearby defenseman attempted to keep the bid out. The second, which came just 33 seconds later, was an isolation play in which Robinson received the ball at the top of the point and instantly took off toward the crease, beating his man and then placing a far-sided bid around Scigliano to again tie the game, 5-5.
Former Mammoth forward Jeremy Noble cranked a wind-up shot from the right side and connected with the top left corner of Ward’s net to reinstate another one-goal lead for San Diego, this one coming at the 6:20 mark. The Seals were able to follow up the strike with a shorthanded transition conversion a minute and-a-half later, courtesy of rookie defenseman Patrick Shoemay, who logged his third goal of the postseason.
Courtesy of a holding penalty called on Leclaire midway through the second, Williams was able to complete his first-half hat trick with a powerful, step-down strike from the right side with the extra-man unit.
As the result of a holding the stick penalty called on defenseman Joey Cupido in the final four minutes of the half, Dane Dobbie was able to capitalize on the power-play and then followed the score up with another successful bid with 52 seconds remaining in the opening half, granting San Diego a 9-6 lead heading into the break.
While that last-minute marker (14:02) created the contest’s largest deficit thus far, Colorado began the second half with a vengeance, racking up five-consecutive tallies (McLaughlin, Cupido, McLaughlin, Robinson, Williams) to begin the third, while holding San Diego scoreless until rookie forward Mac O’Keefe registered a goal at the 11:47 mark.
Entering the fourth with an 11-10, one-goal lead, Colorado understood San Diego likely wouldn’t let them outscore the squad 5-1 again, but also recognized momentum was in their favor heading into the final quarter.
Longtime veteran and postseason legend, Dobbie was able to re-tie the game at 11s six-and-a-half minutes into the fourth, as the forward rolled off defenseman Robert Hope and turned back to crease before firing a low, side-armed bid past Ward from the left side at the 6:18 mark.
But the big plays were just getting started, as Chris Wardle set up fellow left-side forward Dylan Kinnear with a sick behind-the-back pass as Kinnear was surging toward the crease before eventually diving and burying one past Scigliano to restore a late Mammoth lead.
The final retaliation of the evening came just 11 seconds later, in the form of a diving Leclaire tally, which earned the rookie his second of the evening. Two minutes later, Williams recorded his career-best fifth postseason goal after being left open at the restraining line and placing a long range over Scigliano’s shoulder to register his second game-winning goal of the postseason. McLaughlin eventually shed his defender and was awarded a tip-toe crease walking opportunity, to which he converted on, while giving the forward a second-half hat trick and solidifying a 14-12 final for the Mammoth.
Colorado will now head back to Ball Arena May 21 for Game 2 of the West Conference Finals. Tickets for Saturday’s potential NLL Finals-clinching matchup are on sale now!