The Mammoth looked to be heading down a path of NLL Playoff extinction down 9-6 at halftime on the road in San Diego against the Seals, with most of the momentum trending in their opponent’s favor.
But, the fearless, resilient beasts rallied back to steal a 14-12 win away from their home. The Mammoth were without one of their team’s (and the league’s) best players this season, Ryan Lee, who was out due to a lower-body injury. Colorado now takes a 1-0 series lead in the West Conference Finals best-of-three series heading back to Denver and the friendly confines of Ball Arena next weekend.
During the first 30 minutes, the Seals were on the precipice of breaking this game wide open multiple times – they were up 3-1, then 5-3, then 7-5, and then 9-6 – but the Mammoth wouldn’t quit. In the second half, though, the tables turned. It was a five-goal run by the Mammoth to start the last 30 minutes that ultimately sealed the game for the visitors. In total, the Mammoth outscored the Seals 8-3 in the second half.
Mammoth Alternate Captain Joey Cupido explained how significant that second half push was to the team’s victory.
“The way we responded tonight, especially in that second half, we feel really good about our team,” Cupido said. “Our offense was clicking, the defense settled down, and we have the best goalie on the planet, so I think we’re in a very good spot. I can’t wait to get back in front of our fans in the ‘Loud House.’”
It was unclear who would step up to replace the dynamic playmaking and scoring talents of the injured Lee, but it was Zed Williams tonight on the right side who carried much of the load. William’s five goals were a game and even matched his NLL career-high. Much like the now powerhouse trio of Lee, Connor Robinson, and Eli McLaughlin; Williams, Robinson, and McLaughlin combined for 12 goals and eight assists on Friday night.
Cupido weighed in on what it means to have Williams and so many of his other teammates to step up in the face of adversity.
“Everybody is chipping in,” Cupido said. “You can’t measure heart, you can’t measure character, and we have a ton of [both] in this [locker] room, more than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here. So, we need to continue what we’ve been doing, and like I’ve said, whatever happens, it’s ‘next shift.’ We need to keep playing, we need to keep grinding, and good things will happen for us.’”
The Seals tried a little bit of everything on Friday night to first gain the lead and then later fight back into contention. Dane Dobbie was not only facilitating the ball on offense, finishing with four assists, he scored his 14th career hat trick in the NLL Playoffs and was tracking back to play transition defense. Many of his teammates matched Dobbie’s efforts, seven of which also found the back of the net, including defenseman rookie Patrick Shoemay who scored his third goal of these NLL Playoffs despite not scoring a single goal during the regular season.
Defensively, Brodie Merrill, Drew Belgrave, and Eli Gobrecht had multiple caused turnovers, and Belgrave was the only player on either team to record multiple blocked shots.
As expected, the goaltender matchup was one you couldn’t keep your eyes off of – both the Seal’s Frank Scigliano and the Mammoth’s Dillon Ward stepped up to the occasion. However, it was Ward who made just a few more saves, including a few highlight-reel stops, that gave him the edge on this night.
Also of no surprise was the fact that this game was decided by two goals. Coming into Friday night’s battle, the Seals had played 11 games decided by two or fewer goals, including in last weekend’s Quarterfinal round of the NLL Playoffs. The Mammoth had played nine games decided by two goals or fewer before tonight and had a record of 5-4 in those contests.
Next weekend, the Mammoth have a chance to close out this series and head to the NLL Finals for the first time since 2006. However, the Seals will be ravenously hungry to tie this best-of-three series up and force a win-or-go-home scenario back on their home floor at the end in a couple of weeks. Game two will take place on Saturday, May 21st at 9:30pm ET inside the Mammoth’s Ball Arena.