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Bandits try to pick up where they left off in Toronto

03/26/2013, 4:30pm EDT
By Alan Rosenhoch, Bandits beat writer for NLL.com

Buffalo looks to tighten up on loose balls to snap four-game skid

The Buffalo Bandits (5-7) visit the Toronto Rock (8-4) at Air Canada Centre on Friday at 7pm ET. (Photo: Graig Abel)

The Buffalo Bandits (5-7) are in search of answers and they need to find them fast. On a four-game losing streak, the Bandits head north to face the NLL-leading Toronto Rock (8-4) at Air Canada Centre on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Watch the game live on TSN2 in Canada, ESPN3 in the U.S., and on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network outside North America.

How quickly a season can change. It was just four short weeks ago on Feb. 28 that Buffalo travelled to Toronto and defeated the Rock by a score of 15-13, returning home the following evening with an opportunity to pull even with Toronto for the East division lead.

Instead, the Bandits lost a heartbreaking overtime game to Philadelphia after giving up the game-tying goal with just 3.7 seconds remaining, sending the team into a tailspin.

The Bandits were outclassed in all facets of the game this past weekend when they were blown out 14-7 by a red-hot Edmonton Rush team. It was Buffalo’s fifth straight loss at home, a mind-boggling statistic for a team that was once dominant in its home arena.

“Obviously it’s not fun being in the five-game slump and getting blown out at home once again,” said Bandits captain John Tavares.

In their last three games, the Bandits have been blown away in the loose ball category, scooping just 203 “loosies” compared to the 260 by their opponents.

Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour brought up his team’s lackluster effort in loose balls multiple times during this week’s media call.

“The big stat that we look at after the [Edmonton] game was being out-loose-balled by over 20,” he said. “We have got to start winning some of those hustle stats.”

Where this has hurt Buffalo the most is giving up multiple offensive chances on a single possession, while they are often one-and-done on their own offensive opportunities.

“We have to start winning the one-on-one battles for loose balls,” Kilgour said. “Right now it seems like they take a shot, the ball rolls into the corner and they get it and get another shot. Some possessions end up being 2 ½ minutes with five shots.”

With a solid veteran core, there’s little doubt that this message is being heard in the Bandits’ locker room.  The question is: will the message translate onto the floor?

“We’ve got to get back to basics and start winning the one-on-one battles,” said Tavares, echoing his coaching staff. “If we can start doing the small things right, the bigger things will pay off in the big picture.”

The Rock, on the other hand, sit atop the East division with the NLL’s best record.  They too, however, fell easily to the same Edmonton team 17-12 last Sunday, one day after the Rush’s demolition of Buffalo. 

With a playoff berth already clinched, Toronto is working towards securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, a coveted situation indeed.

The Bandits, meanwhile, are looking for any spark to turn their season around.

“I know we got blown out this past weekend and we got blown out in other games as well, but I believe any team can beat anybody and it’s a matter of what team is going to peak at the right time,” Tavares said.

“Which team is going to peak at the end is the team that’s going to win [the championship],” he added. “So one thing I’m looking at is: we haven’t peaked yet, so we have something to look forward to.”

The game will also air on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh (DIRECTV: Channel 659 and Dish Network: Channel 428), ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain (DIRECTV: Channel 683 and Dish Network: Channel 414), ROOT Sports Northwest (DIRECTV: Channel 687 and Dish Network: Channel 426), and on The Comcast Network in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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