An NLL champion could be crowned in Denver, Colorado on Saturday night.
There is no way around. If the Colorado Mammoth don’t win Game 2 of the NLL Finals at the Ball Arena on Saturday night, the NLL season will be over and the Buffalo Bandits will be NLL Cup winners for the first time since 2008.
These teams are trying to shake off the ghosts that have haunted them and hurt their chances of winning an NLL title. The Bandits had chances to win the NLL Cup in 2016 and 2019 but fell short, while the Mammoths have struggled to progress through the first round of the playoffs most of the past 16 years. Now is her chance for redemption.
Earlier this season, the Bandits were favorites to win the NLL Cup, and they’ve played like that for most of the year. To the mammoth, they’ve been underdogs who have surprised people all season and are poised to make their final and biggest statement by winning a championship.
It has by no means been an easy ride for the mammoth this season, and according to Eli McLaughlin, that’s fine with them. The mammoth has put its feet in the fire many times, including in the postseason. A win or Go Home Game 2 of the NLL Finals is just another chance to prove the doubters wrong.
“There were more consequences for our games [than Buffalo’s]’ McLaughlin said. “We’ve already gone to Game 3. We have played [and beaten] Calgary in the first round. We already had the feeling of standing with our backs against the wall. We can use that experience to help us in Game 2.”
Not only has the mammoth faced the pressure of win-or-go home games a few times this postseason, but they’ve also had to fight off sizeable deficits several times this year, including beating the San Diego Seal in the West Conference Finals ahead a few weeks.
That’s not to say the bandits don’t have the guts to achieve these kinds of heroic victories; The bandits are more than capable of that. In fact, not only have they had some dramatic comebacks of their own, but what the Bandits do is they grab the preverbal bull by the horns and never let go.
During the regular season, the Bandits have beaten their opponents nine times by five goals or more, more wins of this magnitude than any other team in the NLL. It is also already known that the Bandits have had a league-best 14 wins this year – which is relatively unusual and therefore an impressive achievement.
Bandit’s face-off man Max Adler is one of the newer members of this organization – he joined the team mid-season – but even he understands his team’s mentality: nothing is given for free; everything is earned.
“I don’t think it really changes anything,” Adler said. “Every time we step on the ground, we expect to win. It is to be won at any cost. It’s not a Game 3 preview or any Game 3 talk; It’s all about what we can do now to win. It really feels like a must-win game for us.”
Not an easy game for either team. There are few games in a team’s life that are more consequential. And with each club’s deep-rooted history and rabid fan bases, no one is going to go down without a fight (or two or three).
Mammoth defensive coach Andrew McBride knows his players will do everything they can to win, but the fans at Ball Arena will also try to help them do the same.
“We’ve been great at the Loud House all year; It was sort of a safe zone for us,” McBride said. “There have been countless people moving into town this year, which has made a huge difference to our camaraderie and our ability to prepare and be ready at home.”
The first game in this series was an absolute dogfight. It was unclear who would win until the final second of the game clock. More blood, sweat and tears are likely to be shed in this competition than in the last as the team heads to town in need of victory to survive.
On Saturday we will find out if we have a new champion or if we need a third and final game to determine who rules the NLL.