BUFFALO — More than 19,000 Bandits fans flooded KeyBank Center on Saturday looking for a party. But Silver Creek native Zed Williams returned home to spoil their fun.
The 27-year-old recorded four goals and eight assists as the Colorado Mammoth won Game 3 of the National Lacrosse League Finals 10-8, giving Buffalo its third finals loss in the last five seasons. Williams, who is in his first season with Colorado, led all players in the series with 23 points.
The Bandits entered the playoffs with the best record in the NLL and led the series 1-0, but suffered back-to-back losses in which they were held to fewer than 10 goals after leading the league in during the regular season.
Colorado also defeated the Bandits in the 2006 championship game, which was also in Buffalo, when head coach and general manager Pat Coyle was a player. The Bandits were swept in the 2019 Finals by Calgary and in 2016 by Saskatchewan.
“It hurts mostly I feel like because it was in front of our fans,” Bandits captain Steve Priolo said. “You feel like you let the city down and you feel like you let each other down. We were good, we were bonded and we had a lot of things going for us. … I feel like I’m dreaming right now.”
Williams scored 24 seconds into the game, but Buffalo got a pair of goals 19 seconds apart from Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne, taking a 3-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. Colorado notched two goals in the first minute of the second to take the lead and it minimized two Kyle Buchanan goals to enter halftime up 7-5.
Smith plowed to the net late in the third quarter to earn a penalty and hit Chris Cloutier with a pass for the only goal of the third quarter, bringing the slightly subdued crowd back to life. Buffalo native Conor Fields tied the game 27 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Williams had the answer.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder sent a rocket from the right of Buffalo goaltender Matt Vinc — who set the NLL record for career playoff games with 39 — to give the Mammoth the lead for good with 11 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.
“Zed scored that rocket shot and we just couldn’t seem to get the lead,” Bandits coach John Tavares said, “which was very similar to Game 1, when we had the lead all game long. They tied it, couldn’t get the lead themselves and we held them at bay. It seemed to be the same game today as Game 1, but fortunately for them, not us.”
In seven playoff games, Williams tallied 20 goals and 17 points — eight shy of his 16-game output during the regular season — filling the shoes of the team’s leading scorer Eli McLaughlin, who was injured in the first game of the Finals.
“I think he had an adjustment period because he hadn’t played box (lacrosse) in a few years,” Coyle said. “It probably took half the season before he really started getting comfortable and we saw what he was capable of. … He’s a big man and a strong guy. I just think he’s a really tough matchup. Defenses have to adjust for him.”
Priolo rubbed his mustachio-ed face searching for answers following the loss. The Bandits surrendered a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter of Game 2, as Colorado exploded for five goals in less than nine minutes to avoid elimination.
In this game, however, Buffalo could not sustain any offensive momentum and had three goals waved off in the first half. Ward was superb, stopping 55 of 63 shots, with 35 saves coming in the final two quarters to earn Most Valuable Player of the Finals.
“I don’t have any answers for why we only had eight,” Priolo said. “We could have scored in transition and we could have helped out there. It’s a very, very talented offense. Two bad games and here we are.”
Vince made 37 saves, while Buchanan had three goals and an assist. Byrne had a goal and three assists.
Nick Sabato can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.