Not all is lost in Banditland.
The Buffalo Bandits may have saved their season by winning their second straight game this weekend, 13-10 over the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night in front of 15,003 fans at the First Niagara Center.
All-time scoring leader John Tavares hit yet another milestone, becoming the first player in history to record 1,600 points. He hit the mark 3:40 into the fourth quarter to complete the hat trick and a four-point night while giving the Bandits an 11-7 lead.
After erupting for 13 goals in the second half of a 21-14 win Friday night in Toronto, would it be an overstatement to say that this weekend saved the Bandits’ 2012 season?
“I don’t think that’s an overstatement at all,” head coach Darris Kilgour said.
After an evenly played - and penalty-filled - first quarter, the Bandits (4-6) seized control of the game in the second, outscoring the Swarm 7-1 including four power-play goals.
Buffalo went 12 for 18 with the man advantage this weekend.
Minnesota (5-4) made a game of it, outscoring Buffalo 4-0 in the third quarter, but the Bandits settled down and regained control with early fourth-quarter goals from Tavares and Kevin Buchanan. Both came on the fast break, with the scorer streaking from the bench, receiving the pass in full stride and burying it in the mesh.
The Bandits had not won at home since their first game of the season, a 14-10 victory over Toronto on Jan. 14.
“We talked about that (before the game). It’s completely unacceptable what our record at home is,” said Kilgour. “We want to change it, we want to win every game at home and we haven’t done a good job of that this year.
“Tonight we did a really good job of maintaining our composure when we were going through the penalties in the first half … very happy on the all-around effort by the boys.”
Like Tavares, Mark Steenhuis also had four points (goal, three assists) and Luke Wiles contributed two goals and an assist.
Tavares was much more interested in talking about the big victory than his latest accomplishment.
“Honestly, I was just satisfied that we won that game after a long weekend,” he said. “1,600 points, it’s just (based on how) many games I’ve played … It’s obviously an honor to have that many points. I kind of joked when I got to the bench, ‘Well, I guess I’ve got to play until 1,700 now.’”
Buffalo’s team speed was far better Saturday than in the first meeting between these clubs, a 19-11 pounding by the Swarm on Jan. 28 in Minnesota.
“To outrun a team that came in expecting to outrun us, it’s pretty special,” said Kilgour. “It shows that we were really smart tonight and we fast broke them better than they did us and that’s a big accomplishment for an old, slow team.”
Saturday’s loss was Minnesota’s first in three games since Joe Sullivan took over as head coach for Mike Lines.
“We’re a team that got a bit of a lesson today and we’ll learn from that and bounce back,” Sullivan said.
He also thought the team was a bit slower than they had been in previous outings, but did not think his team was sluggish coming off a bye week.
“I think it’s just maybe overthinking the plays a little bit,” said Sullivan. “This is their first time in front of the (large) crowd (in Buffalo), so it is a big thing for a lot of these guys. I don’t take away from the effort, I think the effort was there but Buffalo played a better game.”
Rookie Evan Kirk was strong in goal for the Swarm, particularly in the third quarter as his team crawled back into the game with four straight goals.
“(He’s a) great goalie, including tonight,” said Sullivan. “We didn’t get the win, but I’ll tell you what, that game was 9-3 going in to the half and he kept us in (it by shutting) them out in the third quarter.”
At the end of his press conference, Kilgour took extra time to commend Steenhuis’ play on the defensive end this year and especially after Jay Thorimbert went down Saturday with an injury.
“I can’t speak enough on the change in his game that he’s made this year and the sacrifices he (has) made,” Kilgour said. “I know everyone has been talking about his (offensive) numbers being down, but we’re not asking him for numbers. We’re asking him to fill every hole that’s available because he can do that as a player.”
With the trade deadline looming Tuesday, these two victories create a much different situation than they were facing when mired in a six-game losing streak heading into the weekend.
“We were right on the precipice of breaking this whole thing up,” a frank Kilgour said. “We have a pretty big salary as a team … if we’re going to lose then we might as well lose with cheap players, at least we’d have an excuse then.
“This was a try-out weekend. Guys that wanted to make this team will stay on this team and guys that didn’t we would make some changes. But I think everybody stepped up to the plate and when Tommy (Montour) and Roger (Vise) get back in the lineup they’re going to do a great job for us and they’ll definitely get another shot.”
Montour, Vyse and Ian Llord were scratched due to coaches’ decision in both games this weekend.
This was the first time in five games that the Bandits’ starting goaltender played a full game as Mike Thompson made 38 saves on 48 shots.
“I thought (Thompson) was great … when we weren’t screening him I thought he did a great job, seeing the ball well and it seemed he was all over every shot,” said Kilgour.
With the weekend sweep, the Bandits are tied with Toronto for third in the East, just two games behind division-leading Philadelphia.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about is that you lose six in a row and you’re still in it in the loss column,” said Bandits captain Chris White. “There’s not too many times you can do that and say you’re still going to be in it.”
The Bandits next head to Calgary to face the Roughnecks next Saturday night.