There is one final shootout to determine who rules the wild west. It goes down on Saturday. You won’t want to blink.
The Calgary Roughnecks and Colorado Mammoth couldn’t figure out who should be going to the NLL Finals after their first two fights during these NLL Playoffs, so they’ll need to go head-to-head one last time to see who will be facing the Buffalo Bandits in the final.
Game 1 of the West Conference Finals was a goaltending battle for the ages. The 15 combined goals in the 8-7 contest, which the Mammoth won, tied for the sixth-fewest goals in a playoff game in NLL history. Considering that the Roughnecks have MVP finalist Christian Del Bianco in net and the Mammoth have 2022 Finals MVP Dillon Ward in between the pipes, this should be no surprise.
In fact, when the Mammoth and Roughnecks met during the 2019 West Conference Finals, they tied the record for the fewest goals scored in an NLL postseason game – they combined for 12 goals, and the Roughnecks won 8-4.
In Game 2 this year, the offenses came alive more. The Roughnecks had enough firepower to outlast the Mammoth’s late surge to pull out a 13-12 victory.
Interestingly, while Game 1 was very low-scoring, Game 2, at least compared to other times these teams have met up in the playoffs, was a relatively high-scoring game. The 25 combined goals in Game 2 was tied for the sixth-highest collective goal total between these teams in postseason play, and it was tied for the fourth-most combined goals between these teams in the playoffs since 2008.
It might not be surprising to hear this, but when you split a two-game series, there are going to be things that a team was happy with what they did, but also some things that they wish they could’ve done better. Mammoth Captain Robert Hope knows there are things that his team needs to clean up ahead of Game 3 on Saturday.
“I think both teams are looking at both games and wishing we had some plays back or made some adjustments from one game to the other,” Hope said. “It was obviously a hard-fight battle by both teams, and I think both goalies played really well. There were some great individual plays on offense and defense, and some guys had some really good games. That being said, now it’s down to that one game, do or die, which we’ve both experienced before.”
Roughnecks Captain Jesse Kind also believes that his side has yet to be at their best so far in the West Conference Finals. As a leader who is part of the offensive unit that put up only seven goals in Game 1, I can understand where he’s coming from.
“I don’t think we’ve brought our best to them in these last two games,” King said. “I think our ceiling is so high, and we have so much more that we can offer. Even though we were successful [last] Saturday, I think we can be even more successful if we can reach that ceiling – that ceiling is just so high.”
Each team can make their adjustments before squaring off in Game 3, but how much different will either of these teams be? This will be the sixth time that the Mammoth and Roughnecks will be playing each other this season and the ninth time these clubs have gone up against each other in just the last two seasons.
King explains how he and the Roughnecks, as well as Hope and the Mammoth, will be approaching their familiar foe.
“This’ll be the sixth time we’re facing them this year, so obviously, each team is pretty familiar with each other,” King said. “But, no matter how often you face someone, you always look over film of the most recent game and see what the adjustments are that can be made or can continue to make because you’re never playing a perfect game.”
“They’re going to make their own adjustments to what we do, and we’ll make our own adjustments to what they do. And going to the next game, you make more adjustments off the last one, so it’s non-stop work you’re putting in to be ready for whatever is going to be thrown at you.”
Both teams know how to win the big games. The Mammoth won the NLL Cup last year and beat the Roughnecks en route to doing so. The Roughnecks last won the NLL Cup in 2019, and they beat the Mammoth that year en route to their own championship.
We can’t get ahead of ourselves and start thinking that one of these teams will win the NLL Cup if they end up winning Game 3 – those Buffalo Bandits are looking pretty fierce right now – but history does tell us that the Mammoth and Roughnecks have a good track record against the Bandits, particularly in recent years. Let’s remember for a second that in 2019 Finals the Roughnecks won the NLL Cup, and in 2022 when the Mammoth won the NLL Cup; they both beat the Bandits in the Finals to make that happen.
It’s moments and experiences like that that have trained Hope and the Mammoth not to get too excited in the lead-up to big games.
“There’s a lot of guys in this room that have played a lot of high-level lacrosse throughout their careers and have been very successful,” Hope said. “It’s a very calm locker room in which there’s not a lot of highs and not a lot of lows; it’s nice and even-keeled. A lot of us understand as individuals what our roles are.”
There’s no way we can predict a winner for this critical Game 3, but we know for sure that this game will be an absolute battle on Saturday night. Remember not to miss a second of all the high-flying, heart-stopping action this weekend. Coverage starts at 9:30pm ET on TSN and TSN+ (in Canada) and ESPN+ (in the US). The winner will get to face the Bandits next week while the loser will have to watch from home.