The Rochester Knighthawks defeated the Buffalo Bandits by a score of 13-8 in Game Two of the NLL East Division Finals and won 2-1 in sudden death overtime in the following mini-game in front of 8,651 fans at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night. The back-to-back NLL champion Knighthawks, who now face the West winner Calgary Roughnecks, will attempt to become the first team in league history to win three-straight titles.
Then came the new 10-minute tiebreaker session. The Bandits struck first with a goal from Joe Resetarits 5:22 in to the mini-game. Buffalo pressed hard, but Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc stood tall with a little help of his best friend, the post. Then Joel McCready tied the game at 1-1 with under three minutes left. Both teams had chances at the end of the 10 minutes, but the frenetic 10 minutes ended in a tie.
"For entertainment value, hey, it can't get any better than that," Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen said.
"That's nerve-wracking, I'll tell you that," Knighthawks transition player Brad Self. "There's obviously some pros and cons to that, but I mean, you can tell... everyone was on the edge of their seats or standing up the entire ten minutes along with both teams, so that was pretty entertaining."
Vinc stood tall at the open of sudden death, and the man who opened the scoring way back when the regular game kicked off, Cory Vitarelli, ended the game and the Bandits' hopes of returning to the NLL Champion's Cup Finals for the first time since winning it all in 2008.
"It's something we definitely had to adjust to," said Bandits forward Joe Resetarits. "We thought we played [well] in those ten minutes, unfortunately we took it to sudden death and they scored. It's really nothing to hang our heads on. People wrote us off from day one of this season...we proved everyone wrong."
"It was one of those games where their back was against the wall in Game Two," said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. "They came and played physical, tough defense. Everything we got, we earned. They came to play. You get into that ten-minute game, and I thought we had a lot more energy than they did. We had some good opportunities. Ball wasn't falling for us. There's a lot of character in our room, and we never gave up."
"It feels good," Vitarelli said. "Obviously the win is what's most important, puts us one step closer to our final goal."
"It was a nice one," coach Hasen said. "You never thought 'Dogger' had that much speed coming in from center, but it was a 'Dogger' goal. We'll take it."
The mantra for Rochester on offense all season long has been anyone on any given night. Tonight it was needed. After scoring two goals in the first half of the full length game, forward Dan Dawson who was second on the team in points during the regular season, went out after a scary collision left him lying on the turf motionless for a few moments before getting assistance off the field.
"Dan Dawson is a world-class player," Vitarelli said. "It's one of those things, that you try to rally around that player. We said in the huddle, 'Let's do this for Dawson,' and luckily for us, it worked out."
"It was tough for us," Knighthawks forward Joe Walters said. "To lose Dan, he's one of our top guns. It was tough to lose him, but you know what, we're fighting for him. We wanted to get this win to give him a chance to keep playing the next two weekends. It was a huge team effort, you know everyone picked up the slack."
"It's huge," Self said. "You lose a guy like Dan Dawson, one of the best in the game, best leaders in the game. To obviously as a team, as a group to be able to step up and get those goals. Everyone contributed tonight."
"We're missing Dan Dawson and guys step up," Vinc said. "Joel McCready, Cory Vitarelli score our last two goals to really put us over the top. You can't say enough about our team, how balanced we can play."
"As a group, it was gutsy," coach Hasen. "When you lose one guy, it's going to be tough. But when you lose a righty, one of three, it's a lot of work on... Keogh and McCready."
McCready's game-tying goal late in the 10-minute mini-game saved the Knighthawks' season. He scored on a great individual effort while the atmosphere in the arena grew more tense for the Rochester faithful as the seconds drained off the clock.
"He was good right from the get-go," coach Hasen said. "He's got a lot of energy and he's a guy that drives the net hard... It was great to see."
"Huge," Walters said. "They called his number and he played tonight, and he's been doing it all year. He stepped in and he played a great game. He does the little things that we need, and some big goals tonight. He worked really hard for us."
As it has been all season for the Knighthawks, Matt Vinc continues to drive this team. He kept the mini-game in reach for McCready to tie it up and for Vitarelli on a fast-break top-corner shot to win it in sudden death.
"He was huge," Self said. "He's been like that since I've been here, playing with him. He makes that huge save of [Joe] Resetarits there to keep it at 1-0 there in that mini-game, and that obviously gave us a little momentum."
"That's why we have him," said Knighthawks defenseman Scott Campbell. "He's the best at what he does, and when we screw up, he bails us out. That's kind of how we exist back there on defense."
The Roughnecks will host Game One at Scotiabank Saddledome next weekend on Saturday, May 24 at 9 p.m. ET before the series shifts to Rochester for Game Two at Blue Cross Arena at 8 p.m. ET.
For the Bandits, the loss marked the end of a rollercoaster year after missing the playoffs in 2013. Buffalo got off to an 8-2 start before losing eight-straight games to end the regular season. But the team bounced back with a first-round playoff win Toronto in the first round and at home against Rochester in Game One.
"We could have easily just lost to Toronto [in the first round] and have been rebuilding again," said Bandits legend John Tavares. "I think we did see some light at the end of the tunnel there. We have a pretty good nucleus ... keep continuing to build and develop a winning organization."
Three Stars of Game Two as selected by the media:
1) Cody Jamieson
2) Matt Vinc
3) Joe Resetarits
First Star of mini-game:
1) Cory Vitarelli