By Ray Lilley | NLL.com Staff Writer
Photo Credit: Kohi Ton
After digging themselves into a hole with loses in their first three games the Black Wolves (3-5) can still finish the first half of the season within striking distance of a playoff spot. A win Sunday afternoon against the Colorado Mammoth (4-4) would also leave New England one win away from a .500 record…again.
Getting back to .500 after such a disappointing start is something that has eluded them to this point. The Black Wolves have missed out on two opportunities to erase their early season struggles. A win Sunday will give them a chance that they cannot let slip away with only nine games remaining.
“I think we’ve certainly played better in this five game stretch if you take away the first three games that we played,” New England coach Glenn Clark said. “I think we’ve been more consistent. We’ve obviously been in a position to win all five of them. We lost in overtime and let that one slip away in Georgia.”
Sunday’s game is a rematch of New England’s second game of the season which they dropped in overtime to the Mammoth. The Black Wolves needed seven goals in the second half, four in the fourth quarter, to send that game to overtime before Eli McLaughlin won it 51 seconds into the extra frame.
The game was really a story of two halves as the teams traded 7-3 scores in each half. Colorado outshot New England 53-46 and both teams capitalized on two power play opportunities. The Black Wolves were led by the Kevin Crowley (3 goals, 3 assists), Shawn Evans (2 goals, 3 assists), and Kyle Buchanan (2 goals, 2 assists) while Callum Crawford took the reigns for Colorado with eight points (4 goals, 4 assists).
Evans leads the National Lacrosse League with 35 assists and his 54 points puts him in third. Crowley is 10th in the league in points (40) and his 22 goals is good for third in the NLL. Evan Kirk leads the NLL is saves (335) and is seventh and eighth in save percentage and goals against average, respectively.
The Black Wolves will be without two of their big pieces as veteran forward Chad Culp (8 goals, 13 assists) was placed on first level injured reserve on Monday and defenseman Bill O’Brien was suspended two games following a match penalty last Sunday against Buffalo.
“Colorado is very balanced, starting from the goaltender out,” Clark explained. “They have a very good goaltender, an active, athletic, aggressive defense that likes to put you on the run. In Callum Crawford and Stephen Keogh they have some pretty- dynamic one-on-one players. They present challenges across the floor.”
For Colorado, Crawford is sixth in the NLL in points (12 goals, 32 assists) with McLaughlin (14 goals, 16 assists) and Zack Greer (13 goals, 14 assists) joining him in the league’s top 20. Mammoth goalie, Dillon Ward is third in the league in goals against average, only .01 behind Saskatchewan’s Aaron Bold for second. Ward is coming off a career high 56 saves in last week’s loss to Bold and the Rush.
“You have to have a complete game to have success against them because they can hurt you in transition, their goaltender can get hot and they have some pretty dynamic weapons,” Clark said. “You have to have the whole package against them. They’re a well-balanced, solid team.”
Sunday’s game against Colorado marks the midway point of the season for both teams. Colorado sits in second place in the West Division while New England has battled back to third place in the East. The Black Wolves, however, need to start gaining some ground on the two teams ahead of them if they want to make the playoffs. Toronto is two and a half games ahead of New England while Georgia is comfortably four games up with a 7-1 record.
Next weekend New England will head to second place Toronto with their eyes set on picking up a full game and starting their second half push towards the playoffs. But first, the Black Wolves need to beat Colorado for every game now starts to feel more and more like a must win.