The woes in ‘Banditland’ continue as the Buffalo Bandits (8-10) dropped their eighth straight game by a 16-14 score to the Rochester Knighthawks (14-4) before a sellout crowd of 19,070 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo Saturday night, matching the regular season NLL attendance record set on the season finale in Buffalo last year.
In a game where the Bandits never led but came back to tie the game three separate times, it was Rochester’s strong fourth quarter that finally put the game away.
“It’s important if you can stop their runs right away,” said Knighthawks forward Cody Jamieson. “A team like that is deadly if they get on a run, with those fans, they could easily turn two goals into five goals in a hurry.”
Ahead by a slim 12-11 margin heading into the final frame, an early Craig Point slashing penalty appeared to give the Bandits a prime opportunity to tie the game for a fourth time.
But it was the Knighthawks who took advantage, scoring not one but two shorthanded goals on that man-down situation.
“It’s just not smart lacrosse,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “We’re in the wrong position and we’re spread so far out. But we have no quit in our team… We just have to get rid of mistakes.”
Two more Knighthawks goals gave Rochester a five-goal lead with just 6:06 to play.
The Bandits stormed back to make it interesting late, but ultimately it was too little too late for Buffalo.
Jamieson led Rochester’s offence with 10 points (2+8), eclipsing the 100-point plateau for the first time in his short but illustrious career, finishing the regular season with 108 points.
Craig Point and Stephen Keogh each had a hat trick and two assists, while Dan Dawson had a quiet but effective night with seven points (1+6).
“For being six-foot-whatever he is, he sometimes does go unnoticed,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We’re glad he’s on our side here.”
Dawson broke the Knighthawks franchise record for assists in a season (72), beating out current Bandits forward Shawn Williams previous record of 67 set in the 2009 season.
Buffalo’s offense finally broke out of its major slump, led by Ryan Benesch (3+6) and Mark Steenhuis (4+3). Finally getting the offensive monkey off their back, especially against a goaltender like Matt Vinc, is just about all the Bandits have to build on going into next week’s playoff matchup with Toronto.
“Our offense came to play, they wanted to prove people wrong, and our defense didn’t show up,” Cordingley said. “We can’t dwell on it, because that’s it, it’s over. The eight-game losing streak, it’s over. It’s at 0-0 now [in the playoffs] and we move on.”
After being called out by the coaching staff and management for their lack of production in recent weeks, the Bandits offensive left side combined for seven goals on the night, led by Benesch’s nine-point effort.
Vinc finished 40 saves on 54 shots, while Cosmo had 38 saves, also on 54 shots.
Without question, Buffalo had more to play for than Rochester, with a home playoff game on the line and playing before a sold out arena, but Rochester made sure they were just as ready to play, if not more so.
“We tried to treat it like it was a do or die game for us,” said Knighthawks captain Sid Smith. “We definitely wanted to go into the playoffs on the right foot... It’s a good win, it’s a satisfying win for us. It’s always tough to come into this arena and contend with their fans and how [the Bandits] feed off their fans, so it’s good anytime you can get a win in this building.”
It was a memorable night for Smith, who scored the first goal of his five-year NLL career. It was an odd goal, but an important one nonetheless.
With the Bandits on a three-goal run, the game appeared destined to go into halftime tied, until a major snafu saw Bandits transition player Jay Thormibert lose the ball to Smith with less than 30 seconds to play in the half as Cosmo was heading to the bench for the extra attacker. Smith’s first career goal into the empty net gave the Knighthawks a 10-9 advantage at halftime.
“It felt good to get the monkey off my back,” Smith said. “I was just trying to cause a turnover and I got lucky he coughed it up.”
Asked if he had some wide eyes when he scooped the ball and saw the empty net staring him down, Smith answered with a smile, “a little bit, but I’m pretty confident I could make an empty net shot.”
The first half was a wild won, full of runs and momentum swings. Rochester opened the game on a four-goal run in the first 4:36, jumping out to a commanding early lead.
A pair of Bandits power play goals was quickly followed by a pair of goals from Stephen Keogh in a 22 second span. Those goals were enough for Cordingley, who pulled his starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo after giving up six goals on a mere 10 shots.
The shakeup in net seemed to spark the Bandits, as they quickly answered with two late first quarter goals. It was enough for Cordingley to go back to his stalwart goaltender, as Cosmo was back between the pipes to start the second quarter.
“[Cosmo] was fine, he was more disappointed in his performance,” Cordingley said of his goaltender who has had a fantastic season thus far. “Coz is a true professional and he came [back] in and played well.”
Rochester did not even record a shot on goal in the 4:37 that backup goaltender Kurtis Wagar was in net for Buffalo.
The flip flop of momentum would continue throughout the second quarter, as Buffalo quickly knotted the game at six early in the second quarter. The Knighthawks came right back, however, with another run, this time three goals in a 3:05 span.
Not to be outdone, the Bandits offense stormed back with its own three-goal run over a 3:14 span, before Smith’s empty-netter just before halftime.
The Bandits tied it up on another power play goal early in the second half, but like previously the tie would not last as Rochester scored another pair.
A Steenhuis tally late the quarter set the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter, where Rochester would ultimately prevail.
To say the Bandits are in a bit of shock as they’ve gone from an 8-2 start to closing the season at 8-10 would be a major understatement.
“It’s mind boggling,” Benesch stated flatly. “Lacrosse is a game of streaks and unfortunately we’re on the bad end of one right now. But playoffs is a whole different story, everyone is 0-0, so we’ve just got to play our best and play Bandit-ball.
“It actually feels really good now that the slate is clean. We’ve just got to keep our heads up and stay positive.”
The Knighthawks have earned a well-deserved week off as they await the winner of next week’s East Division Semifinal between the Bandits and the Rock.
The game will be played next Saturday, May 3 at 7 p.m. ET at Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto, as Buffalo’s incredible losing streak has coincided with Toronto’s four-game win streak ensuring a rematch of the 2012 Semifinal game.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Cody Jamieson
2) Mark Steenhuis
3) Stephen Keogh