In a dramatic fashion that is indicative to how most games between the Colorado Mammoth and Calgary Roughnecks have gone over the past few years, the hometown Mammoth were able to edge out an 8-7 victory to clinch a postseason spot in the 2018 NLL Playoffs and take the season-series over their West Division rivals from the Prairies.
It was a shootout early and often in this key rivalry clash. The teams combined for eight goals in the first quarter which was the second-most goals these two have combined for in any quarter this season.
After falling behind within the first 90 seconds of the game, the Mammoth stormed back and scored three straight to take the lead at the 10:09 mark in the first period. It was a lead that they would never relinquish. By the end of the first, the Mammoth held a 5-3 lead in large part due to the ball movement and accuracy of Ryan Benesch. Within the first 15 minutes, he recorded three assists and would end with four helpers by night’s end.
In the second frame, not only did the pace of play seem to slow down just a bit, but both goaltenders looked more confident as well. The Mammoth had been able to score on Roughnecks netminder Christian Del Bianco more times in the first quarter of tonight’s game then they had through the first three-quarters of their last affair. However, Del Bianco and Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward both allowed just one goal in the second frame – Del Bianco stopped 12 shots while Ward stopped 11.
Heading into the second half, with the Mammoth up 6-4, the goals continued to come few and far between. Again, each netminder allowed no more than two goals to keep the game close at 7-6 with only 15 minutes to play.
Ryan Benesch reached a significant milestone on Eli McLaughlin’s goal in the third. Benesch’s assist gave the Mammoth’s leading point-getter this season his 900th career point. He becomes only the 12th player in NLL history to achieve that feat. As for other milestones accomplish tonight, Robert Hope forced two caused turnovers to bring his career total to 101 allowing him to break the century mark after being held without a caused turnover in each of his last two games.
The final frame provided lots of excitement on both ends of the turf. Curtis Dickson tied the match at 7-7 with a goal that will be shown on highlight reels for a long time. Cutting in front of the crease, he was able to swing his stick behind his back with one hand and bounce a shot past Ward. Yet, it was the only goal that Ward allowed the rest of the way. His counterpart also was up to the task late in the game; he stopped nine of the ten shots he faced.
Unlike the 13-9 loss the Mammoth took the last time these two sides saw each other, the home team was able to have the last laugh in front of a packed, loud crowd inside the Pepsi Center. Shortly after Dickson’s game-tying tally, Joey Cupido was able to score his only goal of the duel. Both goaltenders did all they could to help their respective clubs, neither allowing a goal within the last nine minutes.
Despite a final push by the Roughnecks, Ward and the Mammoth defense were able to stop the visitors from stealing a win on the road. For the second week in a row, the Mammoth would win a game by the score of 8-7.
This win is arguably the most important for the Mammoth this season. Now, they not only sit four games ahead of the Roughnecks in the West Division, they also hold the tiebreaker in their back pocket if playoff seeding comes down to that. They also clinched an NLL Playoff spot for the 8th consecutive year and inched to within a game and a half of tying the Saskatchewan Rush for the top seed in the West.
The Mammoth will continue to push through their busy March with a game next weekend in Vancouver against the woeful Stealth. The Mammoth have now won four straight games to mark their longest win streak of the season. With four games remaining on the Mammoth’s March schedule, the prospect of going undefeated this month remains a possibility.
If they continue to play the way they have over the past four games, the Mammoth will not only have a shot to achieve a remarkable feat such as a “perfect month,” they will continue to put the league on notice that this Mammoth team should be feared come playoff time.