Buffalo Bandits (8-9) host Rochester Knighthawks (13-4) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The Buffalo Bandits (8-9) host the Rochester Knighthawks (13-4) for the 2014 NLL regular season finale at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the fourth edition of the 'Thruway Rivalry' live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
For the Bandits, they have one last chance to put a stop to their franchise-record seven game losing streak before the playoffs begin next week.
Buffalo is the first team in NLL history to qualify for the playoffs despite suffering a seven game skid during the regular season, a dubious distinction only made possible by its strong 8-2 start to the 2014 season.
At stake is the opportunity for the Bandits to host a playoff game in First Niagara Center for the first time since 2011. They know that they will play the Toronto Rock in the first round, but whether the game will be played in Buffalo or Toronto is yet to be determined.
If either Buffalo wins or Toronto loses at Minnesota, the game will be in Buffalo. A Toronto victory coupled with yet another Bandits loss means the Bandits would open the post-season on the road.
“We’ve got to get a win,” said Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich. “You want to remember what it’s like to win a lacrosse game. It’s been almost two months…Knowing we have to play Toronto [in the first round of the playoffs], we would rather play Toronto in our building.”
There is good reason for the Bandits’ strong desire to avoid a road game to open the playoffs, as they have had scant success outside of western NY this season, going a paltry 2-7 away from home this season. Their last road victory came way back on Jan. 18 at Colorado.
“We seem to have a real good record at home and we’ve struggled on the road,” Dietrich admitted. “If we have a good effort on Saturday night and somehow come out with a win, we get to play Toronto in Buffalo… It really doesn’t matter, but if you have your druthers, you’d rather play at home and that’s what we’re gunning for here.”
Few would argue that the primary cause of the Bandits' woes over the past seven games has been a lack of offensive production. The team is averaging just over eight goals per game, a statistic made even worse by their four-goal output last week against Rochester, the fewest goals the Bandits have ever scored in a regular season game.
“It’s frustrating; we haven’t been doing our part,” said Bandits forward Joe Resetarits. “Especially with how good our defense has been playing and [Cosmo] has been standing on his head since the beginning of this year. It comes down to us [as an offense] now. We know that and we’ve talked about it a million times. It’s time to stop talking and just start doing it.”
Individually, the Bandits have only one player in the top 25 scorers in the league in points and have the worst power play unit in the league at just 38.5%.
Dietrich went into further specifics on his team’s offensive struggles, going so far as to call out the offensive left side that includes some of the Bandits top star players in John Tavares, Shawn Williams and Ryan Benesch.
“We need more production out of our left side,” Dietrich said candidly. “I don’t know if [the guys on] our left side all want to play the same role and nobody’s adapting to play different roles, but the group that they have been putting on the floor just hasn’t meshed.”
The Bandits organization has dubbed Saturday night’s game as Fan Appreciation Night, with multiple promotions and giveaways throughout the evening. What Bandits fans want most, however, is the opportunity to return to First Niagara Center at least one more time and in a playoff atmosphere.
A victory would go a long way to giving fans, and the players, some hope heading into the postseason.
This is the fourth meeting between the East Division rivals, coming hot on the heels of last week's showdown at the Blue Cross Arena, where the Knighthawks extended the Bandits' losing streak. Holding Buffalo to four goals is not going to Rochester's heads though.
“Got lucky,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We got away with a few things there that we need to make sure we don't do this weekend.”
One of the things coach Hasen referrenced here is the nine times the Knighthawks had to bring out the penalty kill which only allowed the Bandits to capitalize three times.
Rochester defenseman Mike Kirk said that, simply put, Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc was the difference in last weekend's game.
“'Vno',” Kirk said. “It's a simple answer. I think we broke down quite a bit, but 'Vno' was there to back us up. He played a really strong game on Saturday night. We gave them nine power plays. We broke down but Matt was there to stop it for us.”
Rochester has the number one seed in the East Division, first round bye and home field advantage locked up in the playoffs. They still have work to do going forward and this final regular season game is a great chance to do some fine tuning prior to the playoffs.
“We want to be at our best,” coach Hasen said. “Historically, that team that has that first round bye usually comes out flat and we don't want to be that team. We want to make sure that we're playing our best lacrosse now and have that opportunity to continue it when we move forward for that first week of the playoffs.”
“Any time you're playing in Buffalo, it's a big game,” Kirk said. “They've got a great crowd. They have a lot on the line, but it's not going to be hard to be a playoff game for us either. We need to go in there, match their intensity and have a good game.”