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Winner Takes All: Mammoth Heads to Buffalo for Decisive NLL Finals Game 3

Completing another of its now-patented come-from-behind-victories, the Colorado Mammoth recorded an 11-8 victory over the Buffalo Bandits in Game 2 of the NLL Finals before an energetic audience at the Loud House Saturday evening. Trailing by two at the half, Dillon Ward and the Mammoth’s stout defensive squad limited one of the NLL’s hottest offensive units to just two second-half goals while continuing to find some extra motivation after the halftime break. Representing the first postseason Mammoth win in Ball Arena since 2006, when the team captured its first NLL championship, Colorado lacrosse fans witnessed an epic comeback performance and have more than a few reasons to cheer the organization on this weekend as the club travels back to Buffalo for the winner-takes-all Game 3 matchup, which is now scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. MT on Saturday, June 18 at KeyBank Center.

“Everyone stepped up and played awesome – we played as a team, and that’s all we could ask for, the next man to step up,” Zed Williams shared in a postgame interview Saturday. “Everyone is working hard – I might get credit today, but everyone is sacrificing their bodies to get goals and play hard defense.”

The landmark victory for Colorado also qualified as Buffalo’s first loss of the postseason, as the Bandits and goaltending extraordinaire Matt Vinc carried a perfect 4-0 record into the Game 2 contest after beating the Albany FireWolves in the quarterfinal round and sweeping the Toronto Rock in two games during the East Conference Finals. Despite the loss and lesser production on the offensive end, Vinc and his defensive unit, captained by Steve Priolo, was still able to limit Colorado’s high-flying offense to 11 goals thanks to another stellar performance from the veteran netminder. But it was the Mammoth’s back-end unit which ultimately stood tallest, holding the Bandit offense to eight overall goals, including just seven combined points from regularly-elite producers in Dhane Smith (2g, 1a) and Josh Byrne (2g, 2a). After allowing Tehoka Nanticoke to rack up seven points alone (5g, 2a) in Buffalo’s Game 1 victory, the Mammoth defense was able to limit the rookie to two helpers (0g, 2a) Saturday in Colorado’s Game 2 win.

Despite the Mammoth’s continued lagged starts during this year’s playoff run, the Colorado squad has again and again reminded NLL fans and opposing players alike that it’s never about how you start, it’s about how you finish. All things considered, it hasn’t necessarily been the opening minutes of a contest which has plagued the Mammoth, but more so once the contest has settled in, as Colorado has surprisingly recorded the first goal in all six of its postseason appearances this summer.

Another noteworthy takeaway from Saturday’s matchup was the frequently-heard “Get in the Box” chants from the Loud House regulars, as the Bandits recorded a postseason-high 15 penalty minutes last weekend during its first playoff loss, the most since its quarterfinal matchup against the Albany FireWolves (10) last month. Prior to airing its frustrations throughout the second half of the game, Buffalo had previously only recorded 2, 4, 6 and 10 penalty minutes in its first four postseason appearances this season. Both of the teams have combined to commit 37 penalty minutes throughout its respective postseason journeys at this point, while Buffalo has racked up the same total with one less contest played. The Bandits will look to amass a higher goal total than penalty minute count Saturday, if they’re to capture the league’s biggest prize.

 

Saturday’s matchup at KeyBank Center represents the third and final postseason matchup between the organizations this year, as well as the fourth overall meeting between the teams during the 2021-22 campaign and second to be hosted in Buffalo. Mammoth fans will be able to watch this weekend’s matchup on ESPNU, TSN and stream live on ESPN+!

Mammoth fans and contest attendees should be reminded Saturday’s matchup against the Bandits will now begin at 6 p.m. MT, as opposed to the original 5:30 p.m. MT start time. For more on NLL Final matchups, Mammoth postseason information and beyond, be sure to check out our 2022 Colorado Mammoth Playoff Hub.

Looking Back:

After dropping a heartbreaking 15-14 decision during Game 1 of the NLL Finals, the Colorado Mammoth captured a convincing 11-8 Game 2 matchup at Ball Arena on a night where Dillon Ward shined brightest among some of the league’s best talent Saturday. Stopping 40-of-48 on the night, Ward continuously staved off Buffalo’s scoring attack, limiting the score sheet to show only five Bandit goal-scorers in the contest while holding the unit scoreless during the first 19 minutes of play. In a matchup which featured four unique approaches to a quarter of box lacrosse action, both teams seemed to further the case for why they belonged in the final dance.

In a defensive-minded first quarter, Colorado was responsible for the only goal, as Dylan Kinnear found an open Zed Williams outside the crease nearly three minutes into the action, who slammed one home past Vinc to create a 1-0 lead. That score would remain for the next 13-plus minutes, when rookie Brett McIntyre sent a pass to a last-man-on in Connor Robinson, who sent a long-range, unexpected laser past Matt Vinc during Colorado’s second possession of the second quarter to extend the Mammoth’s lead. The next five goals would belong to the Bandits, though, as Dhane Smith opened the scoring for his squad four-and-a-half minutes into the second. Ian MacKay followed the effort up three minutes later, before Smith, Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier (PP) granted Buffalo a three-goal lead as the contest’s goal count began to climb. Williams eventually stopped the run by logging his second of the night with three minutes to play in the opening half, but a Byrne retaliation reinstated the previous deficit. With two seconds before the break, Robinson recorded a second marker of his own by finishing a six-on-five look to create a 6-4 game at the break.

Opening both of the odd-numbered quarters with markers, Williams came out of the half firing, logging his hat trick and reducing Buffalo’s lead to one. But just 19 seconds later, Cloutier responded by beating Ward’s far side to re-establish a two-goal lead. Two minutes later, Robinson completed his own hat trick by rolling over his favorite high-side pick to the left and firing near the top of the key. Following the early exchange of goals, the remainder of the third quarter would see one penalty, but no more scores. The fourth quarter would feature double the number of goals, but only one belonged to the Bandits, as Kyle Buchanan collected a rebound off the boards and sent a quick diving shot past Ward to grant an 8-6 contest. Colorado amassed a five-goal streak to close the matchup out, receiving key fourth-quarter contributions from McIntyre, Williams, Kinnear, Tyson Gibson and again, McIntyre, during the five-in-five run. The Loud House energy, and Ward, kept the remaining seven minutes of play scoreless to force the all-or-nothing Game 3.

Showing Up to Work:

During the first game of the 2021-22 season without both leading scorers Ryan Lee and Eli McLaughlin in the starting lineup, the Colorado Mammoth offensive unit was able to spread the offensive workload via the efforts of Zed Williams (4g, 3a), Connor Robinson (3g, 1a), Brett McIntyre (2g, 4a) and company Saturday during its Game 2 victory. Saturday’s contest doesn’t represent the first contest in which the quality depth featured throughout its roster has risen to the occasion, as six Mammoth players have contributed at least one point in each postseason appearances they’ve appeared in so far, including:

Eli McLaughlin (3g, 3a), (3g, 5a), (6g, 1a), (5g, 7a), (3g, 5a) = (20g, 21a)

Connor Robinson (5g, 1a), (4g, 2a), (0g, 3a), (3g, 5a), (3g, 6a), (3g, 1a) = (18g, 18a)

Zed Williams (1g, 2a), (5g, 1a), (0g, 2a), (2g, 3a), (4g, 4a), (4g, 3a) = (16g, 15a)

Tyson Gibson (1g, 1a), (0g, 4a), (1g, 2a), (2g, 2a), (0g, 2a), (1g, 3a) = (5g, 14a)

Chris Wardle (1g, 4a), (0g, 4a), (0g, 1a), (0g, 1a), (1g, 3a), (0g, 4a) = (2g, 17a)

Dylan Kinnear (0g, 1a), (1g, 2a), (1g, 2a), (0g, 1a), (0g, 1a), (1g, 3a) = (3g, 10a)

Mammoth Postseason League-Leaders:

Despite missing his first contest of the entire regular and postseason campaign, after being moved to the Injured Reserve List Saturday afternoon, Mammoth forward Eli McLaughlin still leads the NLL in points (41) and goals (20) and remains tied for the most assists (21). Roommate and fellow lefty Connor Robinson sits in a close second-place overall with 36 (18g, 18a), while Zed Williams’ 31 points (16g, 15a) rank fifth in postseason scoring. Saturday’s home field advantage obviously applies to the entire Buffalo squad, but with several Mammoth threats stemming from the northeast region themselves, the likes of Zed Williams and company will have plenty of family and friends rocking burgundy in Banditland. Having recorded 10 goals in his last three performances, Williams joins teammates Robert Hope, Tim Edwards and company ranking among the NLL’s statistical leaders in several categories, including:

Goals: 20 (1st) Eli McLaughlin

Assists: 21 (T1st) Eli McLaughlin

Points: 41 (1st) Eli McLaughlin

Points-Per-Game: 8.20 (1st) Eli McLaughlin

Power-Play Goals: 3 (1st) Eli McLaughlin

Game-Winning Goals: 2 (T1st) Zed Williams

Shots on Goal: 66 (1st) Zed Williams

Loose Balls: 54 (1st) Robert Hope

Caused Turnovers: 9 (1st) Robert Hope

Faceoff Wins: 90 (1st) Tim Edwards

Faceoff Win Percentage: 54.2% (1st among remaining F/O personnel) Tim Edwards

*All rankings updated t

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