The cardiac Colorado Mammoth had at least one more comeback in them, outscoring the Buffalo Bandits 7-2 in the second half to win Game 2 of the NLL Finals 11-8 at Ball Arena in Denver on Saturday night in front of over 10,000 faithful fans.
And this time the Mammoth had to do it without the league’s leading playoff scorer, Eli McLaughlin, who was placed on the Injured Reserve List just hours before the game.
“Everyone stepped up, next man up,” Colorado forward Zed Williams said in a postgame on-floor interview.
The Mammoth win evens the best-of-three championship series and forces a deciding Game 3 next Saturday (June 18) at KeyBank Center in Buffalo (7:30 pm ET/ESPN+ and TSN).
Williams recorded a game-high four goals and seven points, while Colorado teammate and rookie Brett McIntyre netted two goals and six points. Connor Robinson had three goals and an assist, while Dylan Kinnear and Tyson Gibson each had a goal and three assists. Chris Wardle added four assists.
“I feel like that’s sort of been the theme with our team for the last half of the year,” said Mammoth Head Coach Pat Coyle. “We have our big guys that are going, like Zed and Connor, but our supporting cast is always chipping in.”
McLaughlin joined Colorado’s leading scorer during the regular season, Ryan Lee with 119 points, on the sideline at a crucial time. McLaughlin had 41 points in five postseason games heading into Saturday.
“Our depth and our management has done a really great job, Brett McIntyre steps in for Ryan Lee and now Sam Firth for Eli,” said Coyle.
Dillon Ward made 40 saves in the Mammoth net, outdueling the Bandits’ Matt Vinc, who had 33 stops. This was only the second time all season the Buffalo offense had been held to a single digit goal total in a game.
“Dillon was awesome,” Coyle said. “For us to win, I think we need that from Dillon. And what an opportunity for him to be going head-to-head with.You see so much press about Vino being like the best goalie in the league, which man he is awesome too, but we’ve always felt that our goalie is the best in the league … so yeah he was great.”
Colorado are no strangers to comebacks, which have happened in all four of their playoff wins, including being down by a goal in the third quarter against Calgary in the first round and down at 9-6 at halftime of Game 1 and 9-5 at the half in Game 3 of the West Finals against San Diego.
The Mammoth also had multiple comebacks during the regular season, including two memorable rallies from down by seven goals to Vancouver in separate games.
On Saturday, Colorado trailed Buffalo 6-4 at halftime. The Mammoth led 1-0 at the end of the first quarter on Williams’ first goal of the game but the Bandits went on a 5-0 run in the second, keyed by Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne.
Buffalo held the lead until Williams, with his final goal, tied the game 8-8 at 4:04 of the fourth quarter. Kinnear scored less than a minute later to give Colorado a 9-8 lead. Gibson and McIntyre would add insurance markers to complete the comeback and send the series back to Buffalo.
“We would rather be playing here [at the Loud House in Denver] because it was obvious how in the fourth quarter how we fed off our fans,” said Coyle. “That’s honestly one of the best atmospheres I’ve been in here. It was great.
“We’re ready to go, it’s one game, one game for the NLL championship. We just try and play the same way no matter where we are.”
The loss was the first of the postseason for the Bandits, who entered Saturday’s game with a perfect 4-0 record.
Byrne led Buffalo with two goals and four points. Smith and Chris Cloutier each had two goals and one assist, while Ian MacKay recorded a goal and two assists and Kyle Buchanan chipped in with one goal and one assist. Captain Steve Priolo snagged a game-high 10 loose balls.
Vinc tied Bandits head coach John Tavares in career playoff games on Saturday with his 38th appearance while Smith became the 12th player all-time to reach 100 career postseason points with his second-quarter goal.
With the win, momentum may now be on the Mammoth’s side as Colorado looks to capture its first NLL championship since 2006. Buffalo has not won the title since 2008 and lost to Calgary in 2019, the last time the NLL Cup was awarded.
“Anytime you get the opportunity to be in a championship game when you know it’s winner take all, we’re going to prepare the same way we’ve done all year,” said Mammoth captain Robert Hope, who hovered eight loose balls and caused two forced turnovers on Saturday.
“Stakes are a little bit higher but we’re going to stick to our game plan that’s made us successful all year.”