NLL Playoffs: West Title Up for Grabs as Bandits Coast in the East


This year’s National Lacrosse League Finals will be a rematch of one of the previous two championship bouts. The question remains — which one?

After a back-and-forth battle for the top seed in the regular season, the Buffalo Bandits turned on the offensive jets to thrash the Toronto Rock in a two-game sweep. Meanwhile, the Colorado Mammoth and Calgary Roughnecks each won on their home turf to force a deciding Game 3 next Saturday in Calgary.

That means Buffalo gets to kick its feet back while two of the West’s top franchises duke it out for the right to play for a title.


The Mammoth mounted comebacks twice this weekend — one successful, one not so much.

In Game 1 in the Loud House, Colorado dug out of a 5-3 halftime hole and a 7-6 fourth quarter deficit for an 8-7 triumph. Connor Robinson scored the game’s final two goals via the power play, netting the winner with 3:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Colorado scored three straight to start the third quarter to take a one-goal lead, but the Riggers responded with a pair to require Robinson’s heroics.

“We took it over in the third quarter,” Robinson said. “We started off with two power play goals. Chris Wardle, absolute weapon on the crease there. And it’s just the energy, the fans giving us a little bit of life in the second half.”

The Mammoth were feisty again Saturday despite trailing by four in the fourth quarter. A three-goal run brought Colorado within striking distance with 9:06 remaining before Calgary got two back. A Game 3 seemed fated when Tyler Pace put the Roughnecks up three with his seventh point of the night with 3:21 remaining, but Colorado made the home crowd sweat with goals from Brett McIntyre and Zed Williams in the final two minutes.

Christian del Bianco and the Calgary defense held in the last 1:25, maintaining a 13-12 advantage until the buzzer to keep the Riggers’ season alive.

“That resolve is amazing,” Calgary coach Curt Malawsky said. “That’s a really good lacrosse team over there. It’s a series for a reason. It’s back and forth. It’s like you’re playing ping pong. They bang it back. We bang it back. It’s the way it is, and you’ve got to learn from those games.”


The Bandits and Rock played three times during the regular season, and those results did not point to a Buffalo blowout come playoff time. Buffalo edged out two close wins — 11-8 in December and 11-10 in April — with the lone one-sided contest going to Toronto with an 18-7 April drubbing.

But it was the Bandits who seemingly could do no wrong in the East title series. On Friday, Buffalo scored seven straight stretching from the second quarter into the third for a 14-5 runaway win. A day later, another seven-goal spurt propelled the group to a 17-8 win.

Buffalo is heading to its third straight championship appearance and is still seeking that elusive first title since 2008.

“We’re here to do a job that we haven’t been able to get done the past two times,” Bandits forward Chris Cloutier said. “We’ve got to come with a different mentality and come ready to play and not take any games off, not take a minute off.”

Josh Byrne totaled 17 points across the two games, while Dhane Smith accounted for 16. Cloutier was stellar in Game 2 with six goals and two assists. Matt Vinc continues to defy father time, making 52 saves Friday and 33 Saturday.

A humming offense made for some highlight reel goals, among them Tehoka Nanticoke’s stellar catch and dive play.

Byrne also had a couple SportsCenter worthy plays, including this box out to score right on the crease.

Buffalo hasn’t had to sweat much this postseason considering it opened the second season with a 20-8 win against Rochester. That gives the team an average margin of victory of 10.

Meanwhile, Toronto exits in an East Finals sweep to the Bandits for a second straight season.

“This one hurts for sure,” Rock captain Challen Rodgers said. “Give them credit, they came out and showed why they finished first in the East and we have work to improve on. It was a long season, ups and downs. There’s some positives we can take away, but ultimately we want to win a championship and get by the East Conference Final. We fell short of our goal.”



Mammoth at Roughnecks, 9:30 p.m.


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