Colorado Mammoth drop opening game of NLL Finals in Buffalo

If the Colorado Mammoth are going to repeat as NLL champions, they’ll have to do it the hard way.

The top-seeded Buffalo Bandits flipped a one-goal halftime deficit with a 5-1 third quarter, then held on in the final minutes to escape with a 13-12 victory over Colorado in Game 1 of the NLL Finals in Buffalo.

Colorado will be playing for its season in Game 2 of the best-of-three series at 2 p.m. Monday inside Ball Arena.

It appeared the defending NLL champions just might escape Buffalo with a victory, with the Mammoth withstanding a 4-0 Buffalo run to begin with game by scoring eight of the next 11 goals to go up 8-7 late in the second quarter. But a penalty late in the first half came back to haunt the Mammoth, with Tehoka Nanticoke scoring a power play goal to even the score just 24 seconds into the third quarter.

The Bandits scored three straight after that over the next three minutes, including one of Dhane Smith’s game-high five goals, to take control of the game with an 11-8 advantage.

Colorado didn’t go away quietly, however, with Eli McLaughlin’s third goal of the game on a power play pulling the Mammoth within a goal at 13-12 with 5:18 to go.

Colorado had four opportunities to notch the tying goal, but came up empty each time. That included a diving behind-the-net shot attempt from Zed Williams that was blocked as the buzzer sounded. Buffalo’s Matt Vinc made a brilliant save on the possession prior to that — one of 31 on the night for the veteran goaltender.

Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward stood on his head on the other end, making 42 saves of his own. But Buffalo’s ability to score with the man advantage — the Bandits had four power play goals — proved to be the difference.

Williams had a pair of goals and three assists for the Mammoth, while McLaughlin had three assists to go along with his hat trick. Connor Robinson and Ryan Lee each had four assists.

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