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March to the playoffs: Bandits and Wings play for tiebreaker

02/24/2013, 2:00pm EST
By NLL.com's Bandits beat writer Alan Rosenhoch and Wings beat writer Dave Walls

Buffalo can move into first-place tie, Philly can overtake second in the East

The Buffalo Bandits (5-3) host the Philadelphia Wings (4-3) at First Niagara Center on Friday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Bill Wippert)

After a comeback victory in Toronto on Thursday night, the Buffalo Bandits (5-3) look for back-to-back wins when they host the Philadelphia Wings (4-3), who are coming off consecutive wins last weekend, at First Niagara Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network here.

The Bandits overcame a three-goal fourth quarter deficit to even the season series with the Toronto Rock (6-3) with a 15-13 road win on Thursday night. Buffalo forward Shawn Williams posted a team-high seven points (4+3), including a highlight-reel backhand goal that made the Top 10 on ESPN’s SportsCenter, while Bandits captain John Tavares had six points (3+3) in his return from a calf injury that had forced him to miss three games.

Despite his strong performance, the 44-year-old Tavares said he is still out of game shape, which bodes well for him and the team going forward.

“When you don’t play for a month, no matter what you do, you can’t get in game shape,” Tavares said. “Didn’t you see me huffing and puffing out there? I was like bagged.”

Bandits transition player Jay Thorimbert played his best game of the season and probably one of the better games of his career. The Whitby, Ontario scored his first two goals of the season, collected 17 loose balls and went an impressive 25-for-31 (81%) on faceoffs.

“[Thorimbert] was our best player tonight,” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. “He got the game ball and he deserved it. He’s been going through a rough time. For him to show up, sacrifice and battle the way he has, [it] shows his heart and what the Bandits mean to him.”

While some players might prefer one game per weekend, Thorimbert said he looks forward to getting right back at it on Friday night.

“I like it, keeps you in the feel,” he said. “In this league, I think in the majority of back-to-back games, the team who played the night before has the better winning percentage. You can get bumps and bruises and get tired, but I like staying in the flow and keep going.”

After the Wings had been crushed by a combined score of 36-18 in two games a few weeks back, they exceeded expectations with back-to-back wins last weekend. The team overcame an early 4-0 deficit against the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks for a 10-8 win and carried that momentum back into Wells Fargo Center on Sunday to defeat the Colorado Mammoth by a score of 14-12.

So what was the key to Philadephia’s sweep? According to forward Drew Westervelt, who had nine points (6+3) last weekend, the team turned up their level of play and turned down the noise.

“I think we had an emphasis in the locker room on cutting the talking and more on executing,” he said. “The intensity we played with was a notch higher than in weeks past.”

New additions to the team helped provide an added spark to the Wings last weekend. Former Wings standout and Springfield, PA native Kyle Sweeney was re-acquired, along with veteran Mike McLellan.

According to Wings general manager and head coach Johnny Mouradian, both players provided a spark in their return to action.

“Kyle is a leader who’s been here awhile, Mike McLellan is a veteran who had some good looks and contributed,” Mouradian said. “With the roster deadline approaching, we jumped at the opportunity to add depth to our roster.”

Even Kilgour was especially impressed by Philadelphia’s comeback performance in Rochester.

“It was very impressive,” he said. “I thought they were in trouble, going down 4-0. They kept their composure and pulled it out. Rochester is a tough place to play. It says a lot about their team.”

The Bandits and Wings have split their season series so far with the home team winning both games. Philadelphia won the season opener against Buffalo by a score of 13-8, but the Bandits fired back to edge out the Wings by a score of 14-13 at First Niagara Center two weeks later.

The winning team on Friday will hold a tiebreaker in the East Division standings The Wings can overtake second place with a win while the Bandits can tie the Rock for the division lead with a victory.

“These divisional games are huge for us,” Thorimbert said. “I know Philly is a big, strong and athletic team. Hopefully we can slow them down and play our game.”

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