Wings captain Brodie Merrill scored an empty net goal in the waning seconds Friday night to help Philadelphia escape Buffalo with a 13-10 win over the Bandits at First Niagara Center. (Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)
The Buffalo Bandits lost for the first time this season as the Philadelphia Wings drew even in the East division with a 13-10 victory in front of 14,492 fans on Friday night at the First Niagara Center.
Playing their first road game of the year, the Wings (2-1) outscored the Bandits 6-1 in the fourth to seal the victory.
“It’s a big win for this franchise,” said head coach and general manager Johnny Mouradian, noting the immense changes his club has undergone in the past two offseasons after struggling for the better part of a decade.
“We have some dynamite leadership,” Mouradian said, “we’ve got Brodie [Merrill], Dan Dawson, Max Seibald, Paul Dawson and [Brandon] Miller.”
Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour was looking to take some positives out of Buffalo’s first loss in three games this year.
“I’d rather learn the lessons we learned tonight than in the last game when it costs us our season. Any time it’s a loss, you’ve got to learn from it and improve,” he said. “We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves and that’s all correctable, it’s not like they went out there and dominated us.”
The Bandits had won 16 straight regular-season games when leading after three quarters. The momentum seemed to be in the Bandits’ favor heading into the final stanza, but an early goal by Wings defender Pat Heim off a Tommy Montour giveaway followed 18 seconds later by one from Drew Westervelt slowed Buffalo’s momentum.
Mark Steenhuis gave the Bandits a 10-9 lead with his second goal of the night, but the Wings came right back with a run of three goals in 3:19 before Brodie Merrill’s empty-net tally.
“The fourth quarter definitely wasn’t our best quarter,” said Bandits forward Chad Culp, who had two goals and two assists including the 200th of career. “We got the two-goal lead and then we couldn’t hold them off in the fourth. It was probably our worst quarter so far this year.”
Westervelt scored four goals while Brendan Mundorf had three goals and four assists. Mouradian said that Mundorf studied plenty of game film on Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson and it paid off.
“He was able to take advantage and hit those areas and score, but he also worked really hard to get other guys open,” Mouradian said.
Dan Dawson had seven assists, bringing his league-leading total this season to 17. While Dawson scored midway through the fourth quarter, Mouradian wants his best set-up man to shoot more.
“He just has to shoot more timely and I think he’s trying to get in a little bit too close; when he’s got that first look he should fire it,” Mouradian said.
The Bandits were successful in limiting Kevin Crowley, the first overall pick in last year’s NLL entry draft, to a goal and assist. Crowley had eight goals and six assists in his first two pro indoor games.
The first half was a seesaw battle, with neither team claiming more than a one-goal lead. The Bandits led the way for the majority, with the Wings grabbing their first lead at 7-6 midway through the second quarter.
Thompson, who came into the game leading the league in goals-against average (9.50) and save percentage (.789), had an up-and-down game. He allowed seven goals on his first 14 shots faced, followed by more than 25 minutes of shutout lacrosse before the Wings’ fourth-quarter run.
“It was a pretty rough start,” Thompson said, “it was a weird feeling facing only like five or six shots in the first quarter.”
The Bandits had some major opportunities to put this game away early, with two five-minute power-play opportunities in the first half. While they scored three man-advantage goals, they also gave up a short-handed one.
“We didn’t take advantage of [the power play opportunities],” Kilgour said, “we should have been up by three or four goals in the first half and it might have been a different game. But we’ll never know because we didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
The Bandits won’t have much time to dwell on the loss as they head to the Xcel Energy Center to battle the Minnesota Swarm in their home opener on Saturday night.
Philadelphia won’t play again until Saturday, Feb. 4, when they play host to the defending NLL champion Toronto Rock.