Despite a valiant effort on the road, the Buffalo Bandits lost 11-10 to the Saskatchewan Rush in heartbreaking fashion in Game 2 of the Champion’s Cup Finals at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Saturday. With the defeat, the Bandits’ incredible 2016 season came to an end as the Rush hoisted the Champion’s Cup trophy for a second consecutive season.
After a back-and-forth game that featured multiple ties and lead changes, the Bandits answered a three-goal Saskatchewan run with a Kevin Brownell tally to the tie the game 10-10 with 4:24 remaining in the game.
However, with just 12 seconds left on the clock, Jeff Cornwall picked up a Buffalo rebound that bounced high off the boards behind the Saskatchewan net, raced the length of the floor uncontested, and converted past Buffalo goaltender Anthony Cosmo to put the Rush ahead.
While Buffalo was able to generate a quality look with just seconds remaining, Ryan Benesch was unable to beat Aaron Bold, and the Rush stormed the floor to celebrate back-to-back championships.
In the defeat for the Bandits, Dhane Smith finished off his record-breaking season with a fittingly strong performance. Despite consistently drawing double and triple teams from Saskatchewan, Smith still managed a six-point (2+4) night. In support of Smith, Benesch (2+1) and Chad Culp had (0+3) had three points apiece.
Cosmo put forth another solid effort in net for the Bandits. Although the 16-year veteran received medical attention early in the first quarter, Cosmo shrugged off the apparent injury to make 43 saves on 54 shots.
Bold deservedly took him series MVP honors after another impressive performance in net for the Rush. After limiting the Bandits’ league-best offensive attack to nine goals in Game 1, the goaltender made another 47 saves on 57 shots in Game 2.
On the offensive end, Mark Matthews (2+4) and Robert Church (2+4) led the way with six points each. Curtis Knight also had five points (2+3) in the win.
Saskatchewan opened the scoring for the night through their star forward. Following a lengthy video review, Matthews was confirmed to have scored with a diving effort with 1:14 played.
On the goal, Matthews landed awkwardly on Cosmo’s right leg and the Buffalo goaltender remained down and was tended to by the Bandits’ training staff. However, Cosmo remained in the game.
The Rush extended their early lead to two just 36 seconds later. With the shot clock winding down, Knight fired a bouncing shot that just managed to squeak past Cosmo.
Buffalo answered back with their first goal of the night five minutes after Knight’s tally made it 2-0. After a quick pick-and-roll, Smith found Anthony Malcom in front of Bold’s net, and the rookie forward converted before tumbling into the Saskatchewan crease.
The Bandits tied the game at 2-2 with a little less than six minutes remaining in the quarter. After intercepting a pass in the defensive end, Andrew Watt raced down the other way on a 2-on-1 and ripped a shot high over Bold’s right shoulder.
Buffalo took their first lead of the game with 3:35 to play in the opening quarter. After a quick spin move freed him from a Rush defender, Benesch fired a low shot that beat Bold five-hole.
Saskatchewan tied the game at 3-3 a little over a minute after Benesch’s goal. Following a illegal cross checking penalty to Steve Priolo, Ben McIntosh scored just 11 seconds into the ensuing power play on a quick catch and release from Cosmo’s right.
The Bandits finished off the scoring in the opening quarter with 1:23 remaining. After a highlight-reel juke move created space, Smith picked the top corner over Bold’s left shoulder to make it 4-3 in favor of Buffalo heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter saw the clubs combine for only three goals as both teams stepped up their efforts on the defensive end.
With 4:11 played, Knight scored his second goal of the night for the Rush. After setting what appeared to be a moving screen, the third-year forward collected a pretty feed from Church and converted past Cosmo 1-on-1 from in tight to tie the game at 4-4.
Buffalo reclaimed the lead with just 48 seconds remaining in the half. Smith found Alex Kedoh Hill coming off the bench, and the 25-year-old transition player ripped a shot that beat Bold to his right.
Saskatchewan wrapped up the first-half scoring with just five seconds remaining on the clock. As he was drifting away from the Buffalo net, Zack Greer fired a long-distance effort that beat a screened Cosmo high over his left shoulder.
Greer’s goal made it 5-5 heading into the break.
The Bandits opened the second half with a two-goal run.
With 1:05 played, Nick Weiss received a pass in transition from Mitch Jones and finished with a leaping effort across his body.
Just under three minutes later, the Buffalo converted their first power-play opportunity of the night. With Jeremy Thompson in the box for a holding-the-stick penalty, Benesch faked a shot to Smith and then beat Bold high on the short side.
Saskatchewan answered back with a pair of long-distance goals that caught Cosmo off guard.
First, with 6:49 played, McIntosh scored his second goal of the night. Following a quick restart, the 2015 NLL Rookie of the Year beat Cosmo from just inside the Buffalo end.
A little less than two minutes after McIntosh pulled the Rush back within one, a shorthanded goal from Greer tied the game at 7-7. With Cosmo screened by his own defenseman, Greer’s second of the goal of the night beat the Buffalo goaltender just a few steps inside the halfway line.
Saskatchewan nearly reclaimed the lead a little over a minute later. After a slash from Smith on Ryan Dilks resulted in a penalty shot, Greer was unable to convert past Cosmo as he fired high and wide of the net.
The Bandits closed out the third quarter with a pair of goals.
With 2:22 remaining, David Brock fed Mark Steenhuis and cleared a path for his fellow veteran, and Steenhuis fired a long-range shot that beat Bold to his right.
Smith scored his second of the night coming with 43 seconds remaining. With a hard-charging run to the front of the net, Smith paid the price and finished past Bold to make it 9-7 in favor of the Bandits heading into the final quarter.
Saskatchewan opened the final quarter on a three-goal run to take back the lead.
With 4:11 played, a holding-the-stick penalty to Culp provided the Rush with a power play opportunity, and Matthews capitalized with his second of the night on a shot from straightaway through traffic.
Over five minutes later, Saskatchewan pulled even with a pretty offensive sequence. Greer found a cutting Church, and the third-year forward beat Cosmo 1-on-1.
Just under a minute later, Church scored again with a shot from straightaway that beat Cosmo to his right. Church’s second of the night made it 10-9 in favor of the Rush with 4:35 remaining.
Buffalo answered back almost immediately. Just 11 seconds after Church gave Saskatchewan the lead, Kevin Brownell finished off a 3-on-1 rush to tie the game up at 10-10.
However, Cornwall’s goal with 12 seconds remaining gave Saskatchewan the lead and the Champion’s Cup.
By Zac Hirschbeck for Bandits.com. Photo by Josh Schaefer.