Buffalo, Colorado One Win Away from Playing for NLL Championship


Frank Brown has one goal and 11 loose balls in Buffalo's playoff run thus far.

The Colorado Mammoth and Buffalo Bandits are one win away from playing for a championship.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Seals and Toronto Rock are glad the National Lacrosse League opted for a best-of-three series format for the divisional final round.

The Mammoth opened the weekend by overcoming the odds, surviving the absence of their leading point producer and main facilitator on Friday night. Ryan Lee, who finished second in the league in points and goals during the regular season and notched 10 points in the playoff opener against Calgary, was placed on injured reserve just hours before Colorado and the Seals were set to square off.

Without Lee, Zed Williams, Connor Robinson and Eli McLaughlin each stepped up when called upon. Williams scored five times, including the eventual game-winner to break a 12-12 tie with under five minutes remaining, in his team’s 14-12 triumph.

Eli McLaughlin notched eight points on three goals and five helpers, and Robinson scored four times while dishing out two assists.

“You can’t replace Ryan,” Williams said. “He’s our leader. He’s been balling out for us all year, so it was really difficult, really emotional. We tried to play with that emotion for him tonight.”

Colorado dug itself out of a 9-6 halftime hole thanks to a five-goal run at the start of the third quarter, but San Diego struck back with a 3-1 spurt to force a tie entering the closing stretch.

Williams netted the go-ahead tally from long range and deep into the shot clock. He still managed to sting the bottom corner and beat Frankie Scigliano. McLaughlin gave the team added cushion just under a minute later.

Chris Wardle and Tyson Gibson also had four points each for Colorado, while Dillon Ward made 36 saves in cage. He helped seal the triumph with one of the most acrobatic saves you will ever see.

Dane Dobbie led the Seals with seven points, while Jeremy Noble and Austin Staats each had five.

“It’s not over,” Williams said. “It’s a series. This is just Game 1. It’s not over.”

Buffalo, the top overall seed in the playoffs, also needed a strong finish to fend off its foe. The Rock, who defeated the Bandits twice during the regular season, went on a 6-0 run stretching from the third quarter into the fourth to take a 14-12 advantage and put Buffalo on its heels.

But the home squad got things rolling again offensively, responding with a five-goal run while fending off a late Toronto push for an 18-17 victory Sunday.

“I think we’re a resilient bunch,” Bandits forward Josh Byrne said. “I’m very proud of what we did tonight.”

The Bandits appeared safe entering the final three minutes of play up a pair of goals, but Justin Scott amped up the pressure when he cut the deficit to 17-16 at the 12:11 mark. Dhane Smith, who responded from a scoreless performance against Toronto last time out with 10 points this weekend, extended the gap out to two again less than a minute later. Still, Buffalo was not out of the woods.

Tom Schreiber beat Matt Vinc with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, and TD Ierlan followed that up by winning the last faceoff of the evening. That set up a spectacular opportunity to equalize when Ierlan found Rob Hellyer standing right on the doorstep.

In the end, Hellyer was inches away from forcing overtime. His shot rang off the post, and Dan Craig couldn’t corral the rebound with an empty net to shoot at. The Bandits held on, sending the team’s faithful fans into a frenzy.

Buffalo was powered by its dynamic duo of Smith and Byrne. Each had seven assists on the night, with Byrne just eclipsing Smith’s 10 points with 11 of his own.

The Bandits were playing with heavy hearts after 10 people were killed and three more injured in a mass shooting Saturday afternoon in a Buffalo supermarket. Law enforcement officers are investigating the tragedy as a hate crime.

The Bandits conducted a moment of silence for those lost and affected. Proceeds from the team’s 50/50 raffle went to the families of the victims.

“When you look at the big picture in life, lacrosse is a very small part of it,” Tavares said. “The big picture, which I talked about, is growing a world population and being nice to each other and not treating people with disrespect. It was amazing that the guys stepped up. In my heart, it felt like they were winning that game for the community.”


East Finals

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 2: Seals at Mammoth, Saturday, May 21 at 9:30 p.m.
Game 3 (if necessary): Mammoth at Seals, Saturday, May 28 at 10 p.m.


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