An NLL champion could be crowned on Saturday night in Denver, Colorado.
There’s no way around it. Unless the Colorado Mammoth win Game 2 of the NLL Finals in Ball Arena on Saturday evening, the NLL season will be over, and the Buffalo Bandits will be winners of the NLL Cup for the first time since 2008.
These teams are trying to shake off the ghosts that have haunted them and interfered with their chances of winning an NLL title. The Bandits had opportunities to win the NLL Cup in 2016 and 2019 but fell short, while the Mammoth have struggled to get past the first round of the playoffs for most of the last 16 years. Now is their chance for redemption.
Coming into this season, the Bandits were the favorites to win the NLL Cup, and they’ve played like it for most of the year. For the Mammoth, they’ve been underdogs who have surprised people throughout the season and are ready to make their final and most grand statement by winning a championship.
It hasn’t been an easy ride this season for the Mammoth by any means, and according to Eli McLaughlin, that’s ok with them. The Mammoth have had their feet put to the fire many times, including during the postseason. A win or go home Game 2 of the NLL Finals is just another chance to prove the doubters wrong.
“There have been more consequences to our games [than Buffalo’s],” McLaughlin said. “We’ve gone to a Game 3 already. We’ve played [and beaten] Calgary in the first round. We’ve already had that feeling of having our backs against the wall. We can use those experiences to help us in Game 2.”
Not only have the Mammoth faced the pressures of win-or-go-home games a few times this postseason, but they’ve also had to battle back from sizeable deficits multiple times this year, including against the San Diego Seal in the West Conference Finals just a few weeks ago.
This is not to say that the Bandits don’t have the guts to come out with those types of heroic victories; the Bandits are more than capable of doing so. In fact, not only have they had some of their own dramatic comebacks but what the Bandits do is that they take the preverbal bull by the horns and never let go.
During the regular season, the Bandits beat their opponent by five goals or more nine times, that is more wins of that margin than any other team in the NLL. It is also already known that the Bandits had a league-best 14 wins this year – which is a relatively uncommon and, thus, an impressive feat.
Bandits face-off man Max Adler is one of the newer members of this organization – he joined the team mid-season – but even he understands the mentality that his team has: nothing is given; everything is earned.
“I don’t think it really changes anything,” Adler said. “Every time we step on the floor, we expect to win. It’s win at all costs. It’s not looking ahead to a Game 3 or any talk about a Game 3; it’s all about whatever we can do right now to win. It really feels like a must-win game for us.”
By no means will this be an easy game for either team. There are few games in a team’s existence that are more consequential. And, with each club’s deeply rooted history and rabid fan bases, no one will go down without a fight (or two, or three).
Mammoth Defensive Coach Andrew McBride knows that his players will be trying everything they can to win but that the fans inside Ball Arena will also be trying to help them do the same.
“We’ve been great at the ‘Loud House’ all year; It’s kind of been a safe zone for us,” McBride said. “We’ve had tons of guys move to the city this year, which has made a big difference for our camaraderie and our ability to prepare and be ready at home.”
The first game of this series was an absolute dog fight. It was unclear who would be the victor until the final seconds ticked off the game clock. Now heading to the city of the team that needs the win to survive, there will likely be more blood, sweat, and tears shed in this contest than in the last.
On Saturday, we will find out if we have a new champion or if we will need a third and final game to determine who rules the NLL.