The Calgary Roughnecks (10-5) clinched at least one home playoff game by completing an East weekend road sweep with a shocking 16-13 come-from-behind victory over the Buffalo Bandits (8-6) before a crowd of 16,606 at First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
Trailing 12-9 heading into the final frame, Calgary quickly evened the score with three goals in a 1:55 span.
This was the momentum swing that Calgary needed, as they continued to pour it on. The Roughnecks went on a six-goal run in just a 5:13 span through the middle of the fourth quarter, as the Bandits could not find an answer.
“You’re never out of it in the NLL. That’s what’s exciting for our fans and that’s what makes this league unique,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “You can be down by five or six and as long as you stick to the program, and you’re resilient, good things can happen.”
A late tally from Dhane Smith would bring the Bandits to within two but that was as close as they would come. This was the first home loss for Buffalo since an opening night defeat to Philadelphia, having won the previous six games at home.
Despite trailing by four goals at three different points of the game, Calgary stayed with it and made it count in the fourth quarter.
The pair of victories on this East coast road trip has secured a home playoff game for Calgary.
“I grew up as a lacrosse player battling against the East and they’re warriors; you get nothing for free,” Malawsky said. “That’s what makes it so special… we secured a playoff spot [last night] and now we got a home playoff date and I hope our fans are excited to see us because we’re excited to come home.”
Dane Dobbie led the way for Calgary with a game-high four goals. Shawn Evans led all scorers with seven points on the night (2+5).
Roughnecks goaltender Mike Poulin, who was pulled in the second quarter, returned after halftime in far better form, making 25 saves on 29 shots in the second half.
“We have a lot of confidence in Mike Poulin and we’ll show that; he’s our #1 guy,” Malawsky said. “He made a real big save on Mitch Wilde at the end of the game that could have actually brought the Bandits within one.”
Buffalo came out of the gate strong, while Calgary may have been feeling some fatigue from playing the previous night in Philadelphia. The Bandits jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first seven minutes of play. Calgary finally got on the board with 3:49 to play in the first.
“We were hungry early and it was a big night for us as an organization,” said a disappointed Troy Cordingley, Bandits head coach. “We wanted to win our way into a home playoff spot. I thought defensively five-on-five we were really good. They scored seven fast-break goals, four power play goals; if you’re giving that up you’re not going to win too many games.”
Roughnecks starting goaltender Mike Poulin had a rough start to the game, lasting less than 20 minutes before being pulled in favor of Frankie Scigliano. Poulin made just 11 saves on 18 shots, for a paltry .611 save percentage.
Scigliano gave the ‘Necks a much needed boost and did well to keep his team in the game late in the first half. Two of his first three saves were on clear-cut breakaways by Bandits transition players Jay Thorimbert and Chad Culp.
“Frankie Scigliano came in and made some big stops for us, it could have gotten really out of hand but he stopped those two big breakaways and weathered the storm for us,” Malawsky said. “It doesn’t matter how many [saves], it’s when.”
Thorimbert got another opportunity just minutes later and made no mistake, reestablishing the Bandits four goal lead with five minutes to go in the first half.
A pair of Calgary goals and a late tally from Resetarits made the score 9-6 Buffalo at halftime.
The teams would trade goals back and forth through the third quarter setting up the dominant fourth by Calgary where they outscored Buffalo, 7-1.
Buffalo seemed to be in control when NLL legend John Tavares scored a 5-on-3 power play goal with 1:11 left in third quarter, his league-record 800th goal of his illustrious 23-year career, but it was all Roughnecks the rest of the way.
“The nice thing about scoring the 800th is that there’s no pressure for the next 99,” Tavares quipped.
The night was not all about lacrosse in ‘Banditland’, however, as the team designated the game as “Tucker Our Lymphoma Night” to raise money and awareness for the young son of Bandits forward Shawn Williams who was diagnosed with Burkett’s Lymphoma earlier this season.
Tucker was able to attend the game in person, receiving a monstrous ovation from the crowd. Known for being shy, he seemed to receive the ovation quite well.
“He was a little shy at first, but then he decided, ‘yeah, I’ll take it’,” said Williams of his son. “He actually wasn’t supposed to be here, his last treatment of chemo was supposed to be Thursday, but his numbers were a little low. We were obviously a little upset because you don’t want to delay a treatment, but then it just popped in my head, hey, I think he might be able to come to the game.”
The Bandits and their fans were not the only ones inspired by Tucker’s fight.
“It was a very special night for Tucker Williams and he’s special in our hearts as well,” Malawsky said. “It was a great night for us to go out and put on a performance for him.
“It was part of my pregame speech. Shawn Williams is a salt-of-the-earth type guy and is dear to all our hearts.”
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Dane Dobbie
2) Shawn Evans
3) John Tavares