The Buffalo Bandits (9-7) punched their ticket into the National Lacrosse League playoffs with a convincing 17-9 win over the Vancouver Stealth (5-12) in front of 15,897 at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night. The win also eliminated the New England Black Wolves from playoff contention as Buffalo earned the third and final spot in the East Division.
The Stealth kept within striking distance until natural hat tricks from Benesch and Steenhuis gave Buffalo an insurmountable lead early in the fourth quarter.
“It was a close game up until it was 9-7 and then [Buffalo] got on a bit of a run,” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault. “We got on our heels and got in a bit of trouble.”
Buffalo also scored three short handed goals to help propel themselves to victory.
“They capitalized on their shorthanded opportunities, when they were shorthanded they went to the net hard and scored there,” added Perreault. “This time of year, special teams are really important and they took advantage of that tonight.”
“When you’re a man down, you try to dictate where their shots come from and make sure [Cosmo] can see the ball,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “I thought we did a really good job of breaking out from our own end.”
Buffalo outscored Vancouver 2-1 in the first quarter. Jay Thorimbert scored in transition for Buffalo to open the scoring before Tyler Digby answered for the visitors. Ryan Benesch finished the frame’s scoring with a power play goal with 6:48 to go in the first.
Mark Steenhuis scored to open the second quarter and give Buffalo a 3-1 lead. Corey Small and John Tavares traded power play goals to make the score 4-2 with 10:00 to go in the second. Small tallied another goal and brought the Stealth within one. A short handed goal by Dhane Smith and a notch from Steenhuis made the score 6-3. Small finished out his second quarter hat trick and Logan Schuss scored a power play goal to send the game into halftime, 6-5.
The third quarter began with a short handed goal from Chad Culp before Schuss made the score 7-6. Steenhuis scored the Bandits’ eighth goal before Iliya Gajic potted the Stealth’s seventh. Benesch capped the third quarter’s scoring and had the Bandits out front, 9-7.
The Bandits got seven straight goals (Benesch, Benesch, Thompson, Steenhuis, Steenhuis, Steenhuis, Nick Weiss) to open up a 16-7 lead in the fourth. Rhys Duch stopped the run on the power play with 6:03 to go in the game. Digby added another goal for the Stealth and made the score 16-9. Steenhuis tallied his seventh goal of the game to close out the scoring at 17-9.
Buffalo hosted their second “Tucker Out Lymphoma” night to raise awareness and honor the late Tucker Williams whose battle with cancer . The team wore special jerseys designed by Tucker’s brother Dyson and his best friend Zack Toll.
“Last year this night was put on to benefit my family and that was amazing. This year the night is put on to honor Tucker. We want to help families the way we’ve been helped,” said Tucker’s father and NLL ironman Shawn Williams. “He’s so proud of the jerseys and he misses his brother. He’s an amazing boy. He’s remarkable.”
Logan Schuss had six points (2+4), Tyler Digby (2+2) and Corey Small (3+1) each had four points. Mark Steenhuis (7+2) and Ryan Benesch (4+5) each had nine points in the win.
Anthony Cosmo had a strong night and stopped 46 of the 55 shots he faced. He’s ramping up for a playoff run.
“It was a good game. We played for two purposes, one was for the Williams family, the other was to make the playoffs. We played well all around,” Cosmo said. “I hope to start the last two games. I want to make sure I’m at my best before the playoffs.”
Steenhuis entered the top 10 in NLL all-time scoring, surpassing Blaine Manning, with his assist on Benesch’s first quarter power play goal. He talked about his motivation for such a strong performance.
“It was a special night to me. I have an eight-year-old son that was his friend. It meant a lot to me, the team and the organization. You couldn’t have asked for a better kid, your hat has to go off to that family,” said Steenhuis. “I was zoned in. I felt good. The ball felt good and it was going in for me. It was nice to do that for the family and for the team.”
The Bandits take on the Black Wolves Sunday afternoon in New England. Vancouver heads to Calgary to take on the Roughnecks in a play-in game for the final playoff spot in the West in Week 18 on May 2.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Mark Steenhuis
2) Ryan Benesch
3) Dhane Smith
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.