NLL Playoffs: And then there were four


NLL Playoffs: And then there were four

PHOTO COURTESY OF COLORADO MAMMOTH/NLL

And then there were four.

Friday brought an overtime thriller and surprise, while Saturday saw a pair of dazzling goalie duels in the first week of the National Lacrosse League playoffs. In the end, the league has its conference finals with two spectacular matchups.

The two top seeds remain alive – Buffalo in the East and San Diego in the West – but it was no walk in the park for either. The Bandits hung around for much of the first half, as Doug Jamieson absolutely shut the door on them in the Albany FireWolves cage. However, they stuck to their game and the shots started to fall in the final 30 minutes of action.

A 4-2 run in the third quarter helped Buffalo take the lead, and Connor Fields all but sealed it with his goal in the final three minutes to give the Bandits an 8-5 lead. Two late-goals into an empty net made the final 10-5. Dhane Smith, who last week was held scoreless for the first time since 2017, rebounded with a team-leading six points. Fields and Josh Byrne each had four.

Smith opened the scoring in the second half just 14 seconds away, setting the tone for a solid finish.

“It’s huge,” Smith said of the goal. “Any time you can kill the momentum like that in the second half, it’s amazing. They’re a great team. Dougie Jamieson played amazing for them, and we just found a way.

Matt Vinc was equally impressive on the other end, making 45 saves.

In San Diego, the Seals avoided an upset against the Philadelphia Wings wildcard, who clung to Western favorites throughout Saturday night’s game.

The Seals broke a 5-5 tie in the third quarter with a pair of goals from Austin Staats. Philadelphia cut the deficit to one three times the rest of the way, including on a Kyle Jackson goal with more than four minutes left, but the Wings never managed to tie.

Philadelphia had one last chance on a timeout with 16 seconds remaining, but Brodie Merrill forced a turnover to miss time and seal a 9-8 triumph.

“Those are the types of games you play the most freely,” said Seals defenseman Patrick Shoemay, who scored the first two goals of his NLL career at the right time. “You know what awaits us. You know that there are two results that can happen. You need to be at peace with this when entering the games. We played for free. We were cowards but we were called. We have another weekend and that means the world to us.

Frankie Scigliano was the backbone of San Diego, making 44 saves. Zach Higgins kept Philadelphia with his 52 saves.

Staats had the team-leading six runs while hooking nine loose balls, while Jeremy Noble and Dane Dobbie each had four runs.

Things don’t get any easier for both teams in their next best-of-three series. Buffalo must now see a Toronto Rock team that got their number during the regular season. San Diego gets a team from Colorado fresh off a spirited road win.

START WITH A STROKE

You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the NLL playoffs.

After losing 9-3 at halftime, the Halifax Thunderbirds came alive. A 5-1 run to start the third quarter cut Toronto’s lead to 10-8, and despite the Rock extending their lead to four, another wave of T-Birds struck. The team orchestrated a 5-0 surge in just over five minutes of action in the opening stages of the fourth, one featuring goals from five different Halifax players, only to suddenly take an advantage of a goal.

Tom Schreiber equalized for host Rock, forcing the first overtime of the 2022 playoffs. Then 2:27 seconds into overtime, Toronto captain Challen Rogers broke the heart of the Thunderbirds and made the return for nothing.

Rogers deflected a long rebound out of the Thunderbirds’ area, creating a two-on-one transition opportunity. He kept the ball all the way, beating Aaron Bold with a low bouncer for a 14-13 win.

“What a game for Halifax to come back and fight,” Rogers said. “But the resilience of this group and just always believing in each other, believing in ourselves. To see this [overtime winner] walk in and see everyone running towards me, what an amazing feeling.

Schreiber, Rob Hellyer and Zach Manns each had five points for Toronto to set up a clash of fiery geographic rivals in the Eastern Final.

EXERCISE OF DEMONS

It’s no secret that the Calgary Roughnecks had the Colorado Mammoth’s number come playoff time.

The teams have met 11 times in the playoffs, including 10 in favor of the Riggers. And the odds for the Mammoth didn’t look good considering Calgary just beat them to secure home ground in this game.

But ultimately, Colorado bucked the trend.

Buoyed by a 10-point performance from Ryan Lee, the Mammoth finished the game on an 8-3 run to erase a one-goal deficit in the third quarter and secure a 16-12 triumph.

Eli Salama put Calgary within a point midway through the fourth quarter, but Zed Williams scored 20 seconds later to spark a game-winning four-goal streak for Colorado.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Mammoth striker Connor Robinson. “Especially on the road, it’s such a tough barn to play. Arriving on a Friday night, just feeling the energy of the crowd. We just stayed together as a team.

Robinson and Eli McLaughlin added six points apiece to help Colorado’s cause.

OUTSTANDING

San Diego’s Dane Dobbie passed Gary Gait for the second career playoff goal in NLL history. He only follows John Tavares. … Toronto won two of three regular-season games against Buffalo, while San Diego won two of three against Colorado. … Aaron Bold of Halifax relieved Warren Hill in net after Toronto took a 5-0 lead. He finished with 32 saves. … Buffalo boasted an attendance of 12,535 this weekend, the best of the quarterfinals. Toronto fans enjoyed the team’s first playoff game in Hamilton.

NEXT
EVERY TIME EASTERN

Eastern Finals

Game 1: Rock at Bandits, Sunday May 15 at 6 p.m.
Game 2: Bandits at Rock, Saturday May 21 at 7 p.m.
Match 3 (if necessary): Rock at Bandits, Saturday May 28 at 7:30 p.m.

West Finals

Game 1: Mammoth at Seals, Friday May 13 at 10 p.m.
Game 2: Seals at Mammoth, TBA May 20-22
Game 3 (if nec.): Mammoth at Seals, TBA May 27-29

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