NLL Playoffs: And Then There Were Four

PHOTO COURTESY OF COLORADO MAMMOTH / NLL


And then there were four.

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

Both top seeds remain alive — Buffalo in the East and San Diego in the West — but it wasn’t a cakewalk for either. The Bandits trailed for much of the first half, as Doug Jamieson absolutely shut the door on them in the Albany FireWolves cage. They stuck to their game, however, 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 put the Bandits ahead 8-5. Two late empty net goals stretched the final to 10-5. Dhane Smith, who last week was held without a point 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 in, setting the tone for a strong finish.

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

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

In San Diego, the Seals avoided an upset against the wild card Philadelphia Wings, who hung with the West favorites throughout Saturday night’s matchup.

The Seals broke a 5-5 tie in the third quarter with a pair of Austin Staats goals. Philadelphia cut the deficit to one three times the rest of the way, including on a Kyle Jackson goal with four-plus minutes left, but the Wings were never able to get that equalizer.

Philadelphia had one final opportunity out of a timeout with 16 seconds remaining, but Brodie Merrill forced a turnover to run out the clock and seal a 9-8 triumph.

“It’s these types of games I feel you play the most free,” said Seals defensemen Patrick Shoemay, who scored the first two goals of his NLL career at an opportune time. “You know what’s in store. You know there’s two results that can happen. You’ve got to be at peace with it when you go into the games. We played free. We were loose but we were dialed. We get another weekend and that means the world to us.”

Frankie Scigliano was the backbone for San Diego, making 44 saves. Zach Higgins kept Philadelphia in it with his 52 stops.

Staats had a team-leading six points while snagging nine loose balls, while Jeremy Noble and Dane Dobbie each had four points.

Things don’t get easier for either side in their upcoming best-of-three series. Buffalo now has to see a Toronto Rock team that had its number during the regular season. San Diego gets a Colorado squad fresh off a spirited road victory.







STARTING WITH A BANG

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

After going down 9-3 at the half, the Halifax Thunderbirds came to life. A 5-1 run to start the third quarter cut the Toronto lead to 10-8, and despite the Rock extending their lead back to four, another T-Birds wave struck. The team orchestrated a 5-0 spurt in just over five minutes of action in the opening stages of the fourth, one featuring goals from five different Halifax players, to suddenly take a one-goal advantage.

Tom Schreiber equalized for the host Rock, forcing the first overtime period of the 2022 playoffs. Then 2: 27 seconds into the extra frame, Toronto captain Challen Rogers broke the Thunderbirds’ hearts and made the comeback for naught.

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

“What a game by Halifax to come back and fight back,” Rogers said. “But the resiliency of this group and just always believing in each other, believing in ourselves. To see that [overtime winner] go in and see everyone run at me, what an unbelievable feeling.”

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

EXERCISING DEMONS

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

The teams have met in the postseason 11 times, with 10 finishing in favor of the Riggers. And chances for the Mammoth didn’t look good considering Calgary just beat them to secure home floor in this matchup.

But finally, Colorado bucked the trend.

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

Eli Salama got Calgary within one midway through the fourth quarter, but Zed Williams scored 20 seconds later to ignite a game-sealing, four-goal run for Colorado.

“It feels unbelievable,” Mammoth forward Connor Robinson said. “Especially going on the road, this is such a tough barn to play in. Coming in on a Friday night, just feeling the energy of the crowd. We just stuck together as a team.”

Robinson and Eli McLaughlin added six points each to help the Colorado cause.

NOTEWORTHY

San Diego’s Dane Dobbie passed Gary Gait for second in career playoff goals in NLL history. He now only trails John Tavares. … Toronto won two of three during the regular season against Buffalo, while San Diego won two of three against Colorado. … Halifax’s Aaron Bold relieved Warren Hill in net after Toronto got out to 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 postseason game back in Hamilton.

UP NEXT
ALL TIMES EASTERN

East 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.
Game 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 from May 20-22
Game 3 (if nec.): Mammoth at Seals, TBA from May 27-29

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