NLL Postseason Party Is Living Up to Hype
Photo: T. Jensen] The play of Dillon Ward in goal for Colorado didn't just hold the Saskatchewan offense in check, it increased the pressure and was a key part of Colorado's upset.
The 2019 NLL playoffs have been an adventure thus far.
Last Friday's showing between the defending-champion Saskatchewan Rush and their seemingly undermatched rivals turned into an uphill grind for the home team. The Colorado Mammoth stuck to the game plan and never wavered for one moment.
In typical playoff fashion, the underdog turned the tables with tenacious play. The Mammoth responded to Saskatchewan's first-half comeback by taking charge during the third quarter by smartly managing their shifts one at a time.
The Rush didn’t respond in kind or in time and got behind the eight ball, putting their season on the line. Becoming unsettled in that third quarter, the Rush were working from an unfamiliar spot and it showed.
The full story line doesn’t capture that Dillon Ward was crucial in this outcome. In the eye of the storm, Ward was unwavering in his abilities and kept the momentum going in Colorado’s favour while simultaneously applying the pressure on the Rush.
This is the essence of the NLL playoff structure: one and done.
You better be prepared should the unexpected arrive. It looked to me like Saskatchewan wasn’t ready for the Mammoth to bring their "A" game or they were already looking past their opponent.
Either way, this game can be summed up with the statement that Colorado’s defense was better than Saskatchewan‘s offense. Ward and company were diligent and patient, spawning the reward of Joey Cupido‘s dash from the defensive end as the overtime winner. Friday night's shocker set the stage for more upsets to come.
The Buffalo Bandits seemed prepared for anything the New England Black Wolves could throw at them after watching the scene from the night before.
New England surged early to match Buffalo's output but that momentum was short-lived as the Bandits controlled this game for the best part of all four quarters. Buffalo got the output it needed from all of its departments to take a convincing win into the next round.
Shutting down or containing Callum Crawford would be top priority and Crawford was held in check until the game was out of reach.
The Bandits revealed they can strike from anywhere at any time which will be a concern for any opponents. Cracking Matt Vinc will be another monumental task.
Almost as surprising to me as the Colorado victory was the Toronto Rock's manhandling of the Swarm on the road in Georgia.
Once again we saw the underdog resilient in the opening frame before putting on a clinic for approximately the next 40 minutes. Toronto went on an 11-5 run started by five unanswered goals in the second quarter.
The Swarm's play could be described as noticeably frustrated and all the credit must go to Toronto. It was the Rock's best game of the season and their solid game plan of pressuring the Georgia offense swung the door in their favour. In the case of this upset, it really was the Rock forcing the Swarm into mistakes and having them play on their heels for most of the night. Much credit should go to the Rock's ability to mix up their approach and take Georgia out of theirs.
Setting the story line for Calgary’s visit to San Diego was that both teams were heading in opposite directions at the end of the regular season. Calgary was coming off some convincing wins while the expansion darling Seals of San Diego were troubled by the loss of their No. 1 shooter and losing some games down the stretch.
This contest was back-and-forth with Calgary always having to match San Diego’s runs and play catch up.
Down two goals to start the fourth quarter, Calgary faceoff specialist Tyler Burton answered early to tie the game only to have Turner Evans score his third of the night to put San Diego back on top.
Riley Loewen answered 15 seconds later and regained Calgary's momentum. Curtis Dickson's tally built on that at the halfway point of the quarter and the one goal lead stood until the final buzzer.
Calgary's defense came alive with the season on the line, which is a good sign moving forward. The Roughnecks looked rusty from sitting for over two weeks with the Monday game adding a few extra days to their already lengthy wait. Like the quarterfinal one season ago, the Riggers saved their best for the last quarter.
San Diego’s effort in 2019 must be applauded as its expansion season gives hope to other expansion teams for the future. You can be highly competitive in your first year. The Seals had a promising season.
Calgary will have a reversal of fortune as its next game is Friday night with only four nights to separate its last victory and its next contest.
Three of the four playoff victories went to the lower seeded team from the regular season standings. We have seen in the past that any and all teams entering the playoffs can win it all. Don’t rule out Toronto or Colorado for a trip to the finals.
Based on the first week's playoff results, we know it's still all up for grabs.