The division finals started this past weekend with two fantastic and entertaining close games. On Friday, the underdog Mammoth came from behind three times but the Seals tied it up in the fourth quarter before Zed Williams scored his fifth to give Colorado the lead they wouldn’t give up. Meanwhile, Sunday night in Buffalo featured another exciting back-and-forth game, similar to Friday’s but with higher numbers.
He wasn’t untouchable, didn’t go for 25 minutes without giving up a goal, or anything like that. But he only allowed three goals in the second half, and made the stops he needed to and a few that nobody thought he could. Ward’s two best statistical seasons were 2020 and 2022, and I think the Mammoth’s confidence in their backstop is at an all-time high. I’ve said it before: I think confidence is huge in lacrosse (and sports in general), and having confidence in your goalie makes a big difference in how the rest of the team plays. I can’t explain how exactly, but I think the Mammoth’s confidence in Ward was part of their win on Friday night.
Colorado coming back again
No Ryan Lee, playing on the road against the #1 team in the West, they’re 1-2 against the Seals this season and 2-6 all-time, and they were down by three at the half. Sounds like a recipe for a Colorado loss, doesn’t it? Well, the Mammoth have come back from 3-goal deficits to win five times this season, so it’s not as tall an order as you might think. Plus the Seals were without two of their offensive threats Zack Greer and Brett Hickey, but don’t let that take anything away from how well the Mammoth played, particularly in the second half. Zed Williams had a pretty good season, but only had a single hat-trick in 16 games. In this game, he looked more like the PLL MVP that the Mammoth were hoping for, scoring five. Eli McLaughlin also stepped up with 8 points, and Connor Robinson continued his breakout season with 4 goals.
Incidentally, I’ve seen a number of comments on social media about how the Saskatchewan Rush management is either surprised or incompetent (or both) because they had Robinson on their team but traded him and now he’s an offensive star. They might be a bit disappointed that he didn’t score 42 goals for them while he was there, but I think they’re neither surprised nor incompetent. They drafted him high because they knew his potential, but at the time, they had Matthews, Keenan, and Shattler on the left side, and Church, Dinsdale, and McIntosh on the right. They weren’t going to take time away from those guys so Robinson was the odd man out. They knew his potential but just didn’t have space for him so they decided to send him somewhere he’d actually get playing time. It turns out they could have used his offensive skills this season but they couldn’t have foreseen that.
Toronto @ Buffalo
Sure, as a Rock fan I would have preferred a Rock win but wow, what an incredible game and an incredible ending. The Rock were down by three in the first, but scored five straight to take a two-goal lead halfway through the second. Then Buffalo scored five straight to get their three-goal lead back, and extended it to four in the third. The Rock scored six straight to take another two-goal lead, then the Bandits scored five straight again. It looked like Toronto was on their way back to tying it again but just ran out of time. With only a few seconds left, Tom Schreiber beat Vinc but hit the post and Dan Craig grabbed the rebound and managed a shot but hit Vinc with it. All in all, the Bandits had two five-goal runs, and the Rock had runs of five and six goals. There was only one penalty in the entire game, and ten of the Bandits goals came within a minute of the previous goal, despite the fact that they lost the faceoff battle 27-11.
Considering Matt Vinc and Nick Rose are the likely front-runners for Goaltender of the Year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see any (or all!) of Mitch De Snoo, Brad Kri, and Steve Priolo in the Defensive Player of the Year talk, I don’t think a lot of people were expecting the fourth-highest scoring game in league playoff history. Neither goalie was particularly sharp and shots from everywhere were going in. Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith had 11 and 10 points respectively, while six different Rock players picked up at least five points. Chase Fraser scored a couple of Chase Fraser-style goals – it’s easy to see why he’s a fan favourite in Buffalo. Hell, he’s one of my favourites to watch, and I’m not even a Bandits fan.
One oddity: With 13 seconds left in the fourth and the Bandits leading by one, TD Ierlan headed to the faceoff dot, desperately wanting to win the faceoff to give the Rock the chance to tie the game. Heading out to face him was… Nick Weiss? Not their faceoff specialist Max Adler? Sure Adler was only 11-for-37 in the game against Ierlan but that’s why they signed Adler in the first place. Now they bench him for one of the most important faceoffs of their season? For the record, Ierlan won the faceoff and the Rock almost scored.
Dane Dobbie’s penalty
San Diego was down by 2 with less than two minutes left in regulation when Dobbie let his emotions get the better of him and took a needless roughing penalty. The Seals were having enough trouble scoring on Dillon Ward in the second half, now they need to do it twice in two minutes while shorthanded and without a guy who’s known for stepping up his play in the playoffs, who’s also one of their regular season scoring leaders. Of course getting emotional near the end of a game that you’re losing is not unique to Dobbie, players do this all the time. It’s just unfortunate for the Seals.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Getting emotional late in a game isn’t unique to Dobbie, but it is definitely his pattern. I saw it many, many times in Calgary—taking a bad penalty in a terrible situation and hurting the team as a result.