The defending NLL champion Colorado Mammoth used five special-teams goals to spark a second-half comeback and beat the Calgary Roughnecks 8-7 in Game 1 of the West Conference Finals on Thursday night at Ball Arena in Denver.
Connor Robinson’s second straight power-play goal with 3:11 remaining in the contest was the difference. Robinson, who also scored a few minutes earlier on the man advantage, had a game-high three goals and five points for the Mammoth.
Colorado now leads the best-of-three series 1-0 and can clinch its second consecutive trip to the NLL Finals with a win at Calgary on Saturday night. Game 2 goes at 9:30 pm ET (TSN/TSN+/ESPN+).
“We took it over in the third quarter,” Robinson said in a postgame on-floor interview. “We started off with two power-play goals. Chris Wardle, absolute weapon on the crease there. And it’s just the energy, the fans giving us a little bit of life in the second half. We gotta get one more [win] then we’re back here for the Finals.”
Trailing 5-3 to the start of the second half, Wardle scored early in the third quarter on the power play with a behind-the-net dunk at 14:33. Eli McLaughlin then tied it 5-5 at 12:58 with a short-handed marker before Wardle gave the Mammoth its first lead of the game with another extra-man tally at 10:32.
But the Roughnecks mounted their own brief comeback as Dan Taylor notched two third-quarter tallies at 6:27 and 4:37, to hold a 7-6 lead heading into the final frame.
Calgary goalie Christian Del Bianco made a number of key saves in the fourth quarter. However, the Roughnecks could not stop the Mammoth power play. Cue Robinson’s heroics.
Robinson beat Del Bianco from the shooter spot at 5:54 with a low shot to the far side of the net, then completed the Colorado comeback with a high snipe to the far top corner with 3:11 remaining.
Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward recorded 36 saves in the win, while Del Bianco had a total of 42 stops in the defensive duel.
Colorado finished 4-for-7 on the powerplay, including the two crucial goals in the fourth quarter, plus McLaughlin’s short-handed marker. Calgary was 1-for-2 on the man-up.
“It’s easy to make excuses and blame the penalty calls,” said Roughnecks forward Taylor. “At the end of the day it’s on us [to] understand how the game’s being reffed. So it’s something we’ll correct. We’ll learn from this and we’ll be better Saturday.”
Calgary was up 2-0 at the end of the first quarter on two goals by Tanner Cook, including one on the power play, and 5-3 at halftime, thanks to three transition tallies in the second quarter by Calgary’s Zach Currier, Jeff Cornwall and Seth Van Schepen.
Zed Williams, Robinson and Jordan Gilles, in transition, netted first-half goals for the Mammoth. Ryan Lee had four assists for Colorado. Both Williams and McLaughlin added two assists each. Gilles also had an assist.
Cook led the Roughnecks with two goals and an assist, while Josh Currier chipped in with three assists. Jesse King, who topped Calgary in scoring during the regular season with 100 points, was limited to just two assists.
The 2019 NLL champion Roughnecks were without forward Tyler Pace, who scored four goals and eight points in Calgary’s Quarterfinal win last weekend over Panther City. Pace is expected to be back in the lineup for Game 2 on Saturday.
Calgary finished the regular season second in the West at 13-5. Colorado, who beat Buffalo in last year’s NLL Finals to win the franchise’s first title since 2006, was fourth at 9-9.
The Mammoth narrowly edged top-seeded San Diego (14-4) in their West Quarterfinal last weekend on McLaughlin’s game-winner with 1.8 seconds left in regulation.
Buffalo and Toronto are facing off in the East Conference Finals, with Game 1 going tonight at KeyBank Center (7:30 pm ET; TSN/ESPN+).
Catch both Conference Finals Game 2 Saturday night, beginning at 7pm ET on TSN, TSN+, and ESPN+ to see if either series will go to a decisive Game 3.