The underdogs proved to be the biggest dogs in the fight.
Joey Cupido’s breakaway goal in overtime lifted the Colorado Mammoth to an 11-10 victory over the Saskatchewan Rush in the NLL’s West Division Semifinal on Friday night. The fourth-seeded Mammoth stunned a huge crowd at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon and ousted the defending champion Rush, who clinched top spot in the division just a week ago with a lopsided victory over Colorado.
“I had the opportunity to jump in. I just grabbed it and shut my brain off because I didn’t want to think about what I was going to do,” said Cupido.
The speedy transition snared an errant pass by the Rush’s Robert Church, ripped down the turf, and fired a hot bouncer past Saskatchewan goalie Evan Kirk to end the game at 4:04 of OT. The Mammoth will now face either the Calgary Roughnecks or San Diego Seals in the West Division Final.
The Rush were in search of their second straight NLL Cup and fourth title in five years, but fell short after the Mammoth rallied with six goals in the fourth quarter to erase Saskatchewan’s 7-4 lead.
“I want to say this means everything to us, but we want three more wins and we’re going to keep playing next week,” said Cupido. “We showed a lot of character. I’m so proud of how hard we battled.”
As opposed to the regular-season finale between the two teams where the Rush took control early and lead 11-1 at halftime, this game was a tightly contested, defensive struggle through the opening half. Colorado led 3-2 after the first frame, but the Rush eventually knotted things up at 4-4 just before the break on shorthanded marker by Church.
The third quarter saw the Rush seemingly gain the upper hand as they scored three unanswered goals, kicked off by Ben McIntosh’s sidearm shot that went inside the far post. Curtis Knight then scored his second of the night on a brilliant effort as he snagged a loose ball off the side of the Colorado net, raced behind the cage, and slipped a wraparound dunk behind Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward to make it 6-4. Then with 54 seconds left in the quarter, Church counted his second of the night as his quick-stick finish capitalized on a Rush power-play opportunity.
But trailing by three only seemed to spark the Mammoth. Jacob Ruest made it 8-6 and less than two minutes later, Ryan Lee burned past the Rush defense to bring Colorado within one. Three minutes after that, Eli McLaughlin got the Mammoth level and only 17 seconds later, the visitors went ahead 9-8 as Ruest collected his hat-trick tally going airborne and putting a bouncer past Rush goalie Evan Kirk.
McIntosh ended the Mammoth’s four-goal run only to see Colorado retake the lead, with 2:56 left to go, on a slick lunging backhand effort by Lee for his hat-trick tally. The Rush took advantage of a confusing play with just 41.2 seconds left in regulation as McIntosh pulled a loose ball away from Ward at the top of the Mammoth crease and tucked the ball in, forcing overtime with his third of the night.
The Rush nearly had the game won early in overtime while shorthanded but McIntosh’s laser shot from the slot banged off the post after zipping past Ward. Mere moments later, Cupido propelled the Mammoth to the next round while ending the Rush’s season.
Jeff Shattler (2 goals, 3 assists) and Mark Matthews also scored for the Rush, who got a 31-save effort out of Kirk.
Jeremy Noble and Chris Wardle had the other goals for the Mammoth, while Ward finished with 40 saves.
The Buffalo Bandits and New England Black Wolves battle tonight in the East Division Semi-Finals at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Georgia Swarm host the Toronto Rock Monday night at 7:30 ET, while the San Diego Seals host the Calgary Roughnecks Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
The pregame show will begin 30 minutes prior to faceoff on the NLL’s Facebook and Twitter accounts with the game action streaming on B/R Live and Fanseat.