With their realistic playoff hopes on the line, the Buffalo Bandits didn’t crumble in the face of adversity.
Trailing 6-1 late in the second quarter, the Bandits (6-9) scored nine straight goals en route to stunning the Toronto Rock (8-8) by a score of 13-8 in front of 12,113 fans at the Air Canada Centre on Friday.
Reigning MVP Dhane Smith (3G, 2A) and Anthony Malcom (3G, 1A) led the way for the Bandits offensively while Anthony Cosmo made 46 saves on 54 shots.
“There was no panic,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley told NLL.com. “Nobody was losing control. We were all focus and we knew that we had opportunities…The focus was there shift by shift.”
With the win, the Bandits snapped a three-game losing streak and moved within one-game of the New England Black Wolves (7-8) for the final playoff spot in the East Division. The Black Wolves travel to Colorado to take on the Mammoth on Saturday night. Toronto, which holds a one-game lead on New England for second in the division, missed an opportunity to move closer to a playoff berth. The Rock have now lost three straight games and four of their last six.
In the second half of Friday’s game, the Bandits looked like the team which came within two wins of the Champion’s Cup last season. Buffalo silenced the Air Canada Centre crowd by outscoring Toronto 6-0 in the third quarter, a major part of its nine-goal run. Trailing 6-3 at halftime, Bandits forward Ryan Benesch and Dhane Smith scored early goals in the third frame to cut Toronto’s lead to 6-5. The Bandits then gave the Rock a huge opportunity after Mitch de Snoo and Blaze Riorden both took penalties at 7:18 of the third quarter. But not only did the Bandits kill off the Rock’s full two-minute five-on-three power play, Malcom scored shorthanded to cap off a hat trick to tie the game 6-6.
“That was big,” Cordingley said of Malcom’s goal. “Special teams are huge. Three-on-five with two [Rock defenders] draped on him, I still don’t know how he did it. It was a huge goal. He is just one of those guys who can do that.”
After Riorden made it 7-6 for Buffalo, the Bandits capitalized twice on a five-minute high sticking penalty on Rock defender Brock Sorensen. Buffalo’s league-leading power play got a second goal from Benesch followed by a blast from Mark Steenhuis with 18 seconds left in the third quarter to give Buffalo a 9-6 lead heading to the fourth.
“It was an unfortunate penalty, especially considering the timing,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer explained. “We had just spent a couple of minutes five-on-three and weren’t able to capitalize. It certainly was deflating on the bench. People make mistakes and that was definitely one but it’s up to your teammates to try and pick you up. We weren’t able to do that tonight.”
The Rock got off to a great start, outscoring the Bandits 4-0 in the first quarter and appeared to be in control heading into halftime. But Buffalo’s nine-goal run was too much to overcome.
“That was tough,” Rock captain Brodie Merrill said of the momentum shift. “It was definitely a big swing. You could sense it.”
The Rock only managed two five-on-five goals in the game. Toronto scored four times in transition along with twice on the power play.
“You are not going to win many games when you are unable to score five-on-five,” Sawyer said. We had an opportunity to jump on them in the first half and put more on the board. We didn’t.”
Toronto goalie Nick Rose finished with 33 saves on 44 shots. Despite the loss, the Rock outshot the Bandits 54-46 and collected 22 more loose balls (70-48). Toronto also dominated the draws, winning 18-of-25.
Buffalo finished the game two-for-four on the power play and also scored once shorthanded. Including two empty-net goals, the Bandits outscored the Rock 10-2 in the second half.
“Every game is a playoff game,” Bandits forward Dhane Smith told NLL.com “We are sticking together as a team. We can’t point fingers…Rosey is a great goalie but we knew [the Rock] were going to fall at some point. We knew we the [goals] were going to drop and that happened.”
Prior to the game, Rock defender Bill Hostrawser was awarded the Les Bartley Award. The award honors the Rock player who best exemplifies the importance of character and commitment to the team. The late Les Bartley was the Rock head coach from 1999-2003.
The Rock play their final two games of the regular season on the road, starting with a date with the Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday, April 22. The Bandits have little time to rest as they head to Georgia to face the division-leading Swarm on Saturday, April 15.
Three Stars Selected by the Media:
Anthony Cosmo (BUF)
Anthony Malcom (BUF)
Dhane Smith (BUF)