For the second time in as many weeks, the Buffalo Bandits dug out a victory with a dramatic game-winning goal in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter.
Luke Wiles scored a power play goal with 23.6 seconds to play, powering the Bandits (3-1) to a 14-13 victory over the Philadelphia Wings (2-1) before 13,808 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
“I just shot it as hard as I could,” said an exuberant Wiles after the game.
With just two goals coming into the game, Wiles had struggled to score so far this season. His scoring woes continued for most of the game, as he was foiled by Wings goaltender Brandon Miller on numerous occasions, but Wiles made it count when it mattered most.
“I can’t even believe they put me out there after how bad I’ve been shooting the ball,” said Wiles of his last-minute heroics.
Despite his early-season lack of production, Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour has not lost confidence in his second-leading scorer from a year ago.
“I’ve just kept talking to Luke, he’s been frustrated and I just kept telling him ‘keep shooting,’” he said. “That’s all you can do as a goal scorer. He ended up with the ball and he buried it when we needed it most.”
The game opened at a feverish pace with five goals in the first five minutes of play. The first half was filled with momentum swings, as the teams traded four-goal runs. Miller held the Bandits scoreless for a 16:19 span before the Bandits scored four goals in just 5:07.
Tied 8-8 at halftime, it was anyone’s game. Buffalo came out strong in the third quarter and took a 12-10 lead into the final frame.
However, Philadelphia would not go away, scoring two early fourth-quarter goals to tie the game back up at 12-12.
“I thought we were resilient and we responded really well to when we were in difficult situations,” said Wings general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian. “That’s all you can ask from a young team like us.”
Bandits captain John Tavares broke the tie with his only goal of the game with 4:09 to play, giving his team a one-goal lead that would last until the final minute.
With 1:47 to play, Wings transition player Paul Rabil was called for an illegal body check as he destroyed an unsuspecting Mark Steenhuis along the boards.
Not surprisingly, Mouradian did not agree with the referee’s assessment of the hit.
“I thought it was a nice hit,” Mouradian commented. “I’m glad Paul’s playing rugged like that…It wasn’t intent to injure and I don’t think it was a penalty.”
Despite being shorthanded and down by a goal, the Wings would not relent as Drew Westervelt scored with just 43 seconds left. This marked the second straight game in which Westervelt scored a clutch goal late, as he scored the game-winner with just 11 seconds left last week in Toronto.
After giving up the shorthanded goal, Buffalo won the ensuing faceoff and called a timeout, allowing assistant coach Dan Teat to draw up the game-winning play.
After Wiles converted with the man advantage, Philadelphia had one more opportunity to tie the game. Forward Kevin Ross, who scored a game-high four goals, found himself alone on the edge of the crease. After several fakes, he was ultimately foiled by Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo.
Kilgour, however, could not tell you how Cosmo made the save.
“I sort of got in the habit this year of not watching the last minute or 30 seconds of the game,” he said. “I just wait for the crowd to react. The last couple years, it seems like every time we had to stop somebody, we didn’t. It wasn’t working with me watching so I decided to switch it up this year and try to do something different.”
It’s common for professional athletes to have various superstitions and clearly, coaches do as well.
Bandits forward Shawn Williams, the NLL’s ironman playing in his league-record 200th consecutive game, finished with a game-high six assists. In his first season with the Bandits since 2001, Williams has gelled quickly with his new teammates.
“It’s just playing lacrosse,” said a typically humble Williams. “Sometimes you over-think things and most of the time the good things happen when you’re playing simple lacrosse.”
Philadelphia’s netminder Miller came into the game with a league-leading 7.50 goals against average, but he was peppered tonight, allowing 14 goals on 52 shots.
Jordan Hall had a strong game in his return from a one-game suspension, scoring three goals and adding three assists. One of his goals was a highlight-reel goal as he faked the forehand and let a behind-the-back shot go that beat Cosmo short side.
“[Hall] is a smart ballplayer and he’s a great mentor for all our young guys,” Mouradian said.
Bandits forward Mike Hominuck continued his hot hand, scoring his second hat trick in as many games, this time against his former team. After a strong debut in Philadelphia’s 13-8 season-opening win over Buffalo, former Bandits forward Kevin Buchanan was once again strong again for the Wings, registering five points (1+4).
“All around, a big character win for us again,” Wiles said. “Three [wins] in a row for us and we’re on a little bit of a run here, which is great because last year this time we lost two in a row and the wheels kind of fell off for another four weeks. But I don’t see that happening with this group.”
With the Wings loss, there are no longer any undefeated teams in the NLL and the Bandits find themselves with the second-best record in the league, just a half game back of Toronto (4-1), Buffalo’s next opponent.
Winning three straight one-goal games is certainly satisfying and exhilarating, but the veterans in the Bandits locker room know that it’s no time to get overconfident.
“It’s a quiet confidence and it’s definitely not a complacent confidence,” Williams said. “We know there [are] teams looking up [at us in the standings] and we’re in a good position, but we also know that it could be the opposite.”
Philadelphia heads home to host the Calgary Roughnecks at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Wells Fargo Center while Buffalo returns to action next weekend.