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Road to the playoffs: Bandits visit Knighthawks for 'Thruway Rivalry'

04/14/2014, 3:45pm EDT
By Knighthawks beat writer Jeremy Pike & Bandits beat writer Alan Rosenhoch for NLL.com

Buffalo finishes road weekend in Rochester against division champs

Buffalo Bandits (8-8) visit Rochester Knighthawks (12-4) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

The first-place Rochester Knighthawks (12-4) take on the reeling Buffalo Bandits (8-8) at home at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the third edition of the 'Thruway Rivalry' live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

The Knighthawks are fresh off a 10-7 win over the Vancouver Stealth last Saturday that clinched the top seed in the East Division for the playoffs, coupled with the Bandits' 10-9 loss to the Minnesota Swarm.

“I'm sure it's a goal of everybody's team to get that spot and it's a goal that's accomplished,” Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen said. “But there's so much more ahead that we need to prove to ourselves and that we need to get to. It's nice to have a week off to recover a little bit, I guess... But at the same time, we just want to keep rolling and keep going as best we can.”

This is the third meeting of four in the Thruway Rivalry this season. The last time these two teams met was back on Feb 8, with Rochester defeating Buffalo 9-6 at the BCA. Even though the Knighthawks cannot move down in the standings no matter the outcome, there is always something to play for when it involves their Thruway rivals.

“We're looking forward to this test here against Buffalo,” Hasen said. “Buffalo also coming into our rink is motivation enough. There's always something on the line when you play Buffalo, pride, whatever it may be. Everyone is always up for that.”

Rochester also knows that this game is another chance to improve and work on issues that still hold the Knighthawks back to a degree.

“We still have a little bit of work to do to get where we want to be, heading into the playoffs,” Knighthawks defenseman Scott Self said. “I think we feel as a group, still haven't put together a full sixty minutes yet this year. We've had leads, and then we've let them lapse, and vice versa, where we started slowly... we want to eliminate that and play a full sixty minutes heading into the playoffs.”

“If we're not at our best,” Hasen said. “Guys are going to capitalize and put runs on us. That itself is one thing we've got to focus on and eliminate for future games here... We've been fortunate enough to turn that switch on at the opportune times, but most definitely, we need to find a way to play a full sixty minute game.”

So what is holding the Knighthawks back from putting together that elusive full sixty-minute game?

“I think it's just the little things,” Self said. “I think if we focus one shift at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves, making sure you fight hard for every loose ball, you get on and off the floor hard, we stay disciplined, just the little things like that. At the end of the day, they add up to the big thing at the end. So I think there's been times where maybe we as a group have taken shifts off or have kind of lacked in certain areas and it's kind of come back to cost us. I think we just got to focus on the little things like that and we should be able to string a sixty-minute game together.”

For the Bandits, the team will head to Rochester after taking on the Toronto Rock on the road on Friday night.

The primary problem has been Buffalo’s inability to score with consistency. Over the course of the six-game losing streak, they have scored more than nine goals just once. In this league, that is a recipe for disaster.

“What we need to do on offense is get more flow and gel a little bit,” said Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich. “I think Mitch [Jones] coming into the lineup last week helped, he’s an athletic left-handed shooter with some size that definitely gave some help over there. We need to find someone to play with Joey [Resetarits] and Mark Steenhuis on the other side.

“There’ve been nights that Aaron Wilson has been good, there’ve been nights that Jamie Rooney has been good, but that third spot has just been inconsistent. We just need someone to step up and take the reins on that right side and then we can run with six guys.”

Buffalo’s lineup may also be affected by both injury and illness this weekend. Veteran defenseman Billy Dee Smith has been placed on the injured reserve and it’s been reported that he may miss the remainder of the regular season.

Additionally, Dietrich disclosed that several members of the team are battling the flu; not something the coaching staff wants to hear heading into a back-to-back set of games.

The Bandits now look to clinch a first-round home playoff game on Saturday in Rochester after falling 13-9 to Toronto on the road on Friday night as a preview of their single-elimination matchup in two weeks.

"Sometimes when you're down and out, that's when you come out of the hole,” Bandits veteran John Tavares said after Friday's loss.

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