The Minnesota Swarm (7-8) clinched a playoff spot with a 17-12 road win over the Colorado Mammoth (6-9), who missed an opportunity to secure a postseason berth, before a crowd of 17,622 at Pepsi Center on Saturday night.
“They are a great team so it was important for us to be able to compete with everybody in the league,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “We knew they were going to come out with a lot and they did. They played strong, the score isn’t indicative of how hard they worked…It’s good to go in the front door instead of the backdoor essentially for the playoffs.”
Callum Crawford led Minnesota in points on the night (3+6), while Jordan MacIntosh made a splash on offense with five goals to go along with an assist.
Crawford took note that the team has come a long way since their struggles early on in the season.
“That’s the goal at the start of every season,” he said. “We had a rough start for sure, but we picked it up at the end of the season. Great to go in on our own terms, not having to rely on somebody else to something for us.”
Minnesota made a statement in the opening minutes and never looked back with an early 4-0 lead before Colorado would get on the board. By then, it appeared the game’s momentum had swung in Minnesota’s favor, chasing Tye Belanger from net and silencing the Denver crowd as they went into the locker room up 9-2 at halftime.
Offensively, Colorado seemed to improve in the third with four tallies, but still could not find an answer defensively. The Swarm remained vigilant with five goals of their own, maintaining their large lead by matching the Mammoth shooters shot by shot.
The Mammoth showed signs of life in the final frame, scoring three goals on a major penalty by Nik Bilic, who was ejected for colliding with Colorado goalie Dan Lewis. With their lead down to four, Minnesota’s MacIntosh netted an impressive behind the goal score to slow the home team’s momentum as the final minutes ticked away.
“They were prepared and we weren’t,” said Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley. “It really showed in the first half, credit to our guys who battled in the second half, they took advantage of some penalties on them. So we got to regroup, head up to Minnesota, a tough place to play and figure out a way to win.”
A big key for Minnesota was taking the Colorado faithful out of the game early, as Sullivan mentioned earlier this week. Although matching a playoff-like atmosphere in the opening minutes, the noise level never recovered as the Swarm continued to dominate most of the night.
“This is a heck of a crowd, they are a knowledgeable crowd, they’re loud,” Sullivan added. “To take them out makes a difference, it really does. It allows your team to focus and concentrate, so it was important for us to get there.”
Veterans John Grant Jr. (2+5) and Casey Powell (4+4) highlighted the Mammoth offense, with most points coming in the second half.
Belanger, who came into tonight as one of the hottest goaltenders in the NLL, was pulled briefly in the first quarter before being yanked for good later in the half. He finished the night with 20 of 31 saves in 23 minutes.
Lewis, who also has stood tall for the Mammoth this season, recorded 14 saves on 20 shots in relief of Belanger.
“We didn’t get some stops tonight and we didn’t get some timely goals,” Hamley noted. “It’s a game of momentum too, they had some early and we had some late, but just wasn’t enough”
Tyler Carlson played all 60 minutes opposite of the netminder duo, yielding Colorado’s offense most of the game in a 36 save performance.
The two teams will now head to St. Paul to wrap up the 2013 regular season, with both teams having their own goals in mind in round three. Colorado will still look to punch their postseason ticket in the final week.
“We still control our own destiny,” Hamley said. “And that’s all you can ask for and that’s what we have to feed off of right now.”
For Minnesota, it’s about finishing the regular season on a high note before the playoffs start.
“We want to finish 8-8,” Crawford said. “We are worried about the playoffs, but we want to keep rolling and go in on a positive (note)…We want to get our momentum rolling before we start the playoffs.”