Despite entering Saturday’s affair with homefield advantage guaranteed through the playoffs, the Buffalo Bandits (14-4) approached their season finale no differently than they have every game this season, showing no mercy to the San Diego Seals (10-8) in the team’s 18-7 win at Pechanga Arena.
Buffalo forward Shawn Evans, a 33-year-old right-hander now in his 15th NLL season, played like a man possessed in the first 15 minutes of the contest, logging three assists and the final goal of the opening quarter to give the Bandits a 5-1 lead heading into the second. Evans’ hot start, combined with a punishing third-quarter performance from his teammates, proved too much for the Seals to overcome.
The Seals dropped to 10-8 on the year but still lay claim to the No. 2 seed in the West Division with the Calgary Roughnecks falling to the Colorado Mammoth this weekend. San Diego and Calgary both finish the regular season at 10-8, but it’s the Seals that finish ahead in the standings because they won the season series tiebreaker with the Roughnecks, 2-1.
Winning in the postseason without Austin Staats, San Diego’s top rookie forward now on the shelf with a torn ACL, won’t come easy for the Seals. While forwards Dan Dawson and Garrett Billings have stepped up significantly in Staats’ absence, San Diego’s offense is still a shell of what it was with Staats.
Dawson and Billings combined for six points in Saturday’s loss to the Bandits, but their supporting cast didn’t do much to build on the duo’s efforts. San Diego’s Connor Kelly, a first-year forward, finished the game second in shots behind Dawson but found the back of the net just once in the contest.
And it wasn’t just the Seals’ offense that sputtered against Buffalo on Saturday. Veteran goaltender Frank Scigliano turned in an uncharacteristic performance against Buffalo, allowing 13 goals from 42 on-target shots in the affair. Scigliano has had a career year in goal for the Seals this season, but Saturday just wasn’t his night, as he traded spots with backup Tyler Carlson with just under 20 minutes to go in the game.
Buffalo’s skilled passers made things difficult for Scigliano and Carlson. The team combined for 29 assists on their 18 goals in the game. Evans led the way with six, while Dhane Smith and Kevin Brownell filled in behind with five and three assists, respectively.
Now in the postseason, Buffalo will host the New England Black Wolves (9-9) in the East Division Semi-Finals on Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET. San Diego will take on the Roughnecks at home in the West Division Semi-Finals on Monday, May 6 at 10:30 p.m. ET.