Rochester Knighthawks host Buffalo Bandits for Game Two of East Division Finals Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The Rochester Knighthawks host the Buffalo Bandits at Blue Cross Arena for Game Two of the NLL East Division Finals on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the Thruway Rivalry matchup live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
For the Bandits, this is as good of a situation as they could hope for: heading to Rochester up one game to none, with not one, but two chances to advance to the NLL Champion's Cup Finals.
Buffalo grabbed a Game One victory on the strength of a monstrous fourth quarter that saw them score six goals, including a five-goal run in a 3:30 span late in the quarter.
“It was tight throughout, I think we capitalized on a couple mistakes late and we took advantage of a couple opportunities,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “Having said that, we know we’re going into Rochester where they’ve only lost one game all year. We’ve got to prepare better and not just be waiting for opportunities, we’ve got to create our own.”
The Bandits are brimming with confidence; a statement no one expected would be made while they were in the thick of a franchise-worst eight-game losing streak to close the regular season. But indeed they are, having broken that losing streak with two-straight victories to open the 2014 NLL playoffs.
“It was definitely a situation that was tough for us in the locker room,” said Bandits rookie transition player Mitch Wilde of the losing streak. “We took a lot of opportunities to look at ourselves as a team and as a whole and individually what you’re bringing to the table. Over that stretch we knew we had clinched a playoff spot, so in that time we were just trying to work on getting in the best shape come playoff time.”
Indeed, throughout the losing streak Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley insisted that they were taking positive aspects out of each loss. His even keel with the media has never wavered, expressing neither highs nor lows. That level-headedness seems to be paying big dividends for his team now.
Buffalo and Rochester have played one another five times this season, including three of the past four games for the Bandits.
“Both teams know each other extremely well; there’s no hidden secrets,” Teat said. “It’s going to come down to who can execute their game plan better.”
After their 12-8 loss to Buffalo in Game One, the back-to-back champs Rochester must win twice on Saturday night to contend for a third-straight title, which would be an NLL record.
“It was a good battle, tight battle,” Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen said. “They came out with a good jump in the fourth quarter that we weren't able to match, and they ran away with it... Looking at the game again, they were real good, they did a lot of things to us that we weren't able to match. We'll just have to be better this coming week.”
“We battled hard for three quarters, maybe three and a half, and then kind of let things slip away,” said Knighthawks defenseman Scott Self. “And they put their foot on the gas pedal late and ran away with it. So I think we just need to be really good, or a lot better than we were start to finish, to give ourselves the best opportunity to win on Saturday night.”
Rochester wanted to avoid playing that 10-minute mini-game immediately after a full-length regulation game, but in order to book their spot in the Finals, that's where they stand. It's also a chance to put that late-game collapse in Buffalo behind them and get back to what Knighthawks lacrosse is all about.
“That's our mindset, Game One happened,” coach Hasen said. “Game Two, we're at home, a place that we've played well at this year. We earned that opportunity to have this second game back at home... We're glad that we earned that opportunity, especially going back home [to play the 10-minute mini-game] in our home barn, to possibly get there. But we got to worry about the first sixty and we've got to worry about that first faceoff first and foremost. If we can battle, and we can give ourselves the opportunity, then we'll get ready for the next 10 minutes.”
Even with how well the Knighthawks have played at home this season (8-1 with their lone loss to the Edmonton Rush), Rochester cannot allow themselves to think too much about that tie-breaker. There's sixty minutes ahead of them to even get there.
“We really don't have a choice, we've got to worry about the moments in front of us,” coach Hasen said. “We've just got to make sure we take care of little things to give ourselves an opportunity to possibly move forward. But if we get too far ahead of ourselves, like last week, Buffalo's going to jump on us. If we make a mistake, Buffalo's going to put it in our net. They are good. They have been good at doing that to teams all year long.
“We just know we got to be a heck of a lot better than what we were last week... We have to play to our strengths and stick to our principles. Buffalo did a lot of things to take us out of our comfort zone, and we just kind of got to worry about getting back into... more dictating on the back end, making sure we're moving our feet and moving the ball offensively a little bit better.”