Drew Westervelt scored 2:14 into overtime to cap off a dramatic come-from-behind victory as the Philadelphia Wings (5-3) moved into second place in the East Division with an 11-10 road win over the Buffalo Bandits (5-4) before 14,636 at First Niagara Center on Friday night.
“We were fortunate to get [to that point],” Westervelt said. “[Hall]had a nice goal to take it to overtime. I got a chance to dodge, got a little screen and it went in. I’ll take it.”
Down by three goals with just over three minutes to play, Philadelphia clawed back by scoring twice in 70 seconds before tying the game when Jordan Hall beat Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo with 3.7 seconds to play.
Buffalo’s David Brock had taken a holding penalty with a one-goal lead and 2:09 to play. Brock came running out of the box, headed straight for Hall, and was inches from checking his stick and sealing a Bandits victory.
Philadelphia has gone down several goals in the first quarter in several of their recent games, but were only down by one after the first.
“We were down 2-1 at the end [of the first quarter], so that was probably our best quarter that we had [recently],” said Wings general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian.
Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour was visibly displeased with the refereeing, citing several blown calls late in the game, including two missed shot clock resets.
“We played well enough to win that game, that’s what I told the guys,” Kilgour said.
Penalties were a contentious issue for both teams, as the Wings found themselves down a man throughout the first half.
“I don’t know whether we ran into some penalty problems or some penalty problems ran into us [in the first half],” Mouradian said.
The Wings took five penalties in the opening 30 minutes, including one five-minute major. Buffalo made the most of their opportunities, converting on four of five power play opportunities, propelling them to a 6-2 halftime lead.
This was a role reversal from the opening matchup between these two teams on Jan. 11 when Buffalo took 22 minutes in first-half penalties, allowing the Wings to score four early power play goals en route to a 13-8 victory.
“We got all the calls in the first half, they got all the calls in the second half,” said Bandits forward Luke Wiles.
After capitalizing on their sixth power play opportunity just 35 seconds into the third quarter to go down by five, Philadelphia scored five of the next seven goals, to get back in it.
“Our leaders, our older players were very calm on the bench,” Mouradian said. “We’ve got some great leadership in that locker room. It makes my job a lot easier.”
While strong leadership played a big role, what really kept the Wings in the game late was the play of goaltender Brandon Miller. He made several acrobatic saves late in the third and early in the fourth, keeping the deficit to a manageable three goals.
“When it was 10-7, I’m still thinking to myself, ‘I’ve got to keep it at 10 as long as I can,’” said Miller, who finished with 40 saves on 50 shots. “We’ve done it before and who knows, maybe we can just push it to overtime. That’s what I thought.”
Bandits captain John Tavares was playing his second game in two nights after returning from a month on the injured reserve list with a calf injury.
“We started to protect the lead and we stopped attacking,” Tavares said. “Credit to them, they pressured us a lot too but we’ve got to learn how to step on their throats.
“In this league, five goals isn’t that much of a lead when you’ve got half a game to play with.”
Westervelt and Paul Rabil both scored three goals, Kevin Crowley posted five points (1+4) and Buchanan had three points (2+1). Buffalo’s Williams finished with six points (2+4), Wiles registered four points (3+1), John Tavares had three assists and Jay Thorimbert recovered a game-high 14 loose balls in the losing effort.
Both teams were proficient on the power play as Buffalo went 5-for-8 and Philadelphia went 3-for-4 with the man advantage. The Wings now hold the tiebreaker by winning their three-game season series with the Bandits.
The loss must feel like a missed opportunity for the Bandits, as they would have been tied for first place with Toronto had they held on, but now find themselves back in third.
Perhaps more importantly, this loss gives Philadelphia the head-to-head tiebreaker with Buffalo, as they secured the season series 2-1.
“There’s a lot of parity in this league,” Tavares added. “You can go from first to last [place] in a weekend.”
Kilgour doesn’t want his team watching the standings week-to-week.
“We take it one game at a time,” he said. “The next game is always more important than the last. This game is already forgotten about.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the team morale seems relatively unharmed.
“We’re still above .500 [at 5-4], we’re still in a good spot,” Wiles said. “There’s no time to hang our heads and pout. We’ve got to get right back at it on Tuesday at practice.”
Buffalo stays at home to face the Colorado Mammoth next Saturday while Philadelphia will host the Washington Stealth.