The Buffalo Bandits (6-2) bounced back to their winning ways with a commanding 13-7 home victory over the Philadelphia Wings (3-6) before a crowd of 13,980 at First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
Led by yet another stellar performance from goaltender Anthony Cosmo, who was awarded the first star of the game for his efforts, the Bandits took the lead early and never trailed.
“That was 60 minutes of good team lacrosse,” a satisfied Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley commented. “We were good in all areas today… It was a good effort. There wasn’t a single guy that was riding coattails.”
Leading 8-4 heading into the fourth quarter, the Bandits poured it on with a five-goal run in a 6:42 span, leaving little doubt in the victory.
Buffalo’s offense was led by Mark Steenhuis who’s three goals and two assists earned him the second star. John Tavares and Ryan Benesch each added six points (1+5). Tavares’ fourth assist was the 900th of his incredible career.
“It’s nice to get those [milestones] out of the way,” Tavares said with a smile. “Every time I get one, I’m like ‘well, I guess I should go for the next one,’ so I guess I should go for 1,000 now? At this rate it’s going to take a long time.”
Regarding the game at hand, the Bandits captain was particularly pleased with the tempo his team set.
“It was a nice win for us in terms of the tempo, the pace and the intensity as well,” Tavares said. “Not that it wasn’t a tough game, but we controlled the game for the most part.”
While the Bandits offense was solid, the story of the game once again was the strong play of goaltender Anthony Cosmo, who made 45 saves on 52 shots for a phenomenal .865 save percentage.
Many of his saves were of the highlight reel variety and occurred early in the game, when the game was far from decided.
Cosmo, however, gave most of the credit to his defensive teammates in front of him.
“You’ve got to credit the defense and even the offence for lack of transition [opportunities] on their part,” the first-star goaltender said. “Our [defense] is doing a great job letting me see where the ball is; and we talk prior to the game about who I want shooting and they did a great job of executing that.”
Tavares agreed with Cosmo’s assessment of the defensive play.
“A good defense is a defense you don’t want to play against [as a forward],” Tavares said. “And I don’t want to play against our defense, because they’re big, tough and mean and they can move the ball up the floor too.”
Cosmo shut the Wings out completely in the first quarter, stopping all 11 Philadelphia attempts, including a major stop on Jordan Hall who found himself all alone on the edge off the crease off a loose ball scrum.
Philadelphia’s offense, mostly stymied by Cosmo’s play, was led by Ryan Ward with four assists and Kyle Buchanan with four points (2+2).
“When your best players don’t play like the best players, you can expect that kind of result. We’re not happy with it,” Wings head coach Blane Harrison said frankly. “[Buffalo is] a team that’s playing very well right now defensively and I think they’re giving up the shots that Cosmo is comfortable taking.
“Hats off to them; they stuck to their game plan and [Cosmo] is starting to play the way he’s played in the past.”
Philadelphia has now lost three straight games, dropping them into fourth place in the NLL East Division.
Harrison was not shy about voicing his displeasure with his team’s recent play.
“I think complacency kicked in a little bit and we took some things for granted and the last couple weekends we paid the price for that,” he said. “We’re going to have to get back to square one, use practice to our advantage and we’re going to have to make some changes in the lineup to make sure we get guys who are hungry and want to be there.”
At around this time last season, Buffalo had a 5-3 record and had a three-goal lead late in the fourth quarter at home against this same Wings team. The Bandits would squander that lead and lose in overtime, a loss that sent their season into a tailspin, losing seven of their last eight games and ultimately leading to the firing of Darris Kilgour as the team’s head coach.
Avoiding a similar situation tonight was absolutely critical.
“That was a big game [last year],” Tavares said. “It was nice to rebound from [the loss in] Rochester and maintain that lead [unlike last year].”
Buffalo opened the scoring 4:20 into the first quarter as Benesch found himself free in the low slot and made no mistake. Williams extended the Bandits lead just 2:36 later with a power play goal.
Cosmo’s excellent play would continue into the second quarter, allowing only two goals on 29 shots in the first half. One highlight was his left arm save on former Bandit Tracey Kelusky who also found himself one-on-one with the Buffalo net minder.
With Buffalo leading 3-0, Philadelphia finally found the back of the net 1:52 into the second quarter on a Kyle Buchanan underhand bounce shot. The Wings won the ensuing faceoff, leading to a point blank chance for former Bandit Roger Vyse, but Cosmo turned him aside. Buffalo came right down the floor and answered with a goal from Joe Resetarits, quickly reestablishing their three-goal lead and maintaining momentum.
“The big thing was when they got a goal, we answered with one, if not two, each time,” Tavares said.
Vyse would find the net and Steenhuis answered, sending the teams to halftime with Buffalo leading 5-2.
Buffalo opened the second half down a man, as Aaron Wilson took a goaltender interference penalty as the first half expired. That didn’t matter to Bandits face off specialist Jay Thorimbert, who won the second half face off cleanly and took it right in for a shorthanded goal a mere eight seconds into the half.
Thorimbert entered the game in third place in the NLL with 105 face off wins.
The teams would trade goals through the third quarter, leaving Buffalo with a comfortable 8-4 lead heading into the final frame, when they put the game away for good.
Bandits rookie transition player Mitch Wilde made his NLL debut in the win, establishing himself on the score sheet with a goal and an assist. His tally in the third quarter came in transition as he flew up the floor as the trailer, took the pass and calmly buried his opportunity.
“Scoring the goal really eased my nerves,” the 22-year old Brooklin, Ontario native admitted.
He was not quite as calm in celebrating his first career NLL goal, promptly launching himself into the high glass in ‘Banditland’.
“My best buddies told me to do that, so that jump was for them,” the youngster said with a smile.
Buffalo was highly effective in penalty killing situations, limiting the Wings to just one goal on six attempts with the man advantage.
“We’ve been real good with the short man,” Cordingley said. “Power play [1 for 4 on the night], we’d still like to get more effective on that.”
The Bandits victory was particularly important as it sealed the season series for Buffalo between these two teams, the NLL’s oldest rivalry at 23 years. This Bandits will own the tiebreaker should these teams end up in a two-way tie at the end of the regular season.
“It was a big game for us, especially with the tie-breaker against Philly,” said Cosmo. “Last time they came into this barn [on Dec. 28] they ran us out pretty good; so it’s good to get a little revenge and redemption.”
Heading into a lengthy two-week break gave the game some added importance as well for Buffalo.
“It’s good for the coaching staff, because it would have drove us nuts [to lose before the break],” Cordingley said.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Anthony Cosmo
2) Mark Steenhuis
3) Ryan Benesch
Buffalo now has two weeks off to relish the victory, returning to action on Saturday Mar. 8 at home against the Minnesota Swarm. Philadelphia returns home for an afternoon affair against that same Swarm team on Sunday Feb. 23.