The Rochester Knighthawks (8-8) clinched a playoff berth and eliminated the Buffalo Bandits (6-10) from postseason contention with a 10-9 road win before a record-crowd of 19,070 at First Niagara Center on Saturday night. (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks (8-8) have earned the opportunity to repeat by clinching a playoff berth with a 10-9 road victory over the Buffalo Bandits (6-10), eliminating them from postseason contention, before 19,070 fans, a new NLL all-time regular season record, at a sold-out First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
With Rochester leading by two goals late, Mark Steenhuis brought Buffalo to within one with just 14.1 seconds to play, but Rochester held off the Bandits final possession to punch their ticket to the postseason.
With a playoff berth on the line for both teams, it was do or die. With a rivalry this intense and the stakes so high, it seemed inevitable that the game would come down to the final play.
“That’s typical for these two teams,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “It was a good game right to the last second and we’ll take it and go.”
Craig Point led Rochester with 4 goals, while Cody Jamieson led had 6 points (1+5). Point’s shot from the outside seemed to have eyes on multiple occasions throughout the game.
“Whenever I got the ball, they were giving me space and room. So whenever I got the chance I took it,” Point said. “We thought that they would be laid back [on defense] and they were, so we stayed spread and moved the ball like our offense usually does. Everybody had good looks and mine just fell, pretty much every time.”
With only five goals on the season coming into this game and having been a healthy scratch for six games, Point was not the player many expected to explode when it mattered most.
“Point has a great outside shot and he was picking his spots and making the most of his opportunities and lanes that he was given,” Hasen said. “All the credit goes to ‘Pointer’, because he’s been in and out of our line up and he’s persevered through it and he’s done a lot of the little things on his own to make sure he’s ready for this when his moment came.”
For Buffalo, a storied franchise in the NLL, this is the first time they have missed the postseason since 2002.
In a nine-team league in which eight make the playoffs, being the odd team out is a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s always [tough for a season to end], but usually it’s not in the regular season,” said Bandits veteran Shawn Williams. “That wasn’t our intention at all this season, but we kind of put ourselves in this situation.”
For the second straight season, Buffalo suffered through a franchise-record six-game losing streak. This year, however, their late-season surge was too little, too late.
“It was our own doing, so it won’t sit well,” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. “I wish I could have done a better job in the middle of the season and found some way to shake things up and get a win throughout that six-game losing streak. Obviously, that was the downfall of our season.”
Buffalo was led offensively by Aaron Wilson’s six points (2+4), while Williams and Dhane Smith each had four points (2+2).
Buffalo opened the game with two goals in the first 3:05, soon extending their lead to 4-1 midway through the quarter. But Rochester came back strong with three goals in a 2:04 span to close the first quarter tied at four.
Rochester continued its strong play, controlling most of the second quarter and extending its run to six goals, taking a 7-4 lead late in the second quarter. Buffalo finally stopped the run with 1:44 to play in the half, as Buffalo’s excellent ball movement on the power play culminated in a goal from Wilson.
Wilson factored on all five of Buffalo’s first-half goals, taking five points (2+3) into halftime as Rochester led 7-5.
The teams traded goals in the third quarter, as Rochester took a 9-7 lead into the final frame with the playoffs on the line.
After trading goals again, Buffalo was down two goals late when they got a power play opportunity with just over four minutes to play. Having converted on five of six power play opportunities already in the game, this was a prime chance to cut the lead, but failing to convert proved fatal for this Bandits team.
“We got a [power play] opportunity late and we didn’t bury it,” Kilgour said. “That’s another opportunity that we let slip by. We had a really nice chance with Dhane [Smith] right in front of the net and Matt [Vinc] made a really nice save.”
Steenhuis’ late goal gave the home fans hope, but in the end, Brad Self picked off a Buffalo pass thrown by John Tavares and ran out the clock.
Amid the Rochester victory, Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc broke the NLL single-season saves record. His 26 saves put his season total to 662, breaking Rob Blasdell’s record set in 2002.
“[The record] wouldn’t have mattered at all if we didn’t make the playoffs,” Vinc said. “But overall, I think you have to look at it defensively. My guys on the defense blocked as many shots tonight as I had saved; we’re doing the right things on the defensive end and hopefully we’ll carry that forward [into the playoffs].”
The Knighthawks will open the 2013 NLL playoffs at home against the Philadelphia Wings next weekend.