The top ranked Buffalo Bandits will square-off against the No. 4 seed New England Black Wolves in the East Division Semi-Finals of the NLL Playoffs.
Buffalo is coming off a stellar 2019 regular season which saw the team’s performance take a complete turn from their 2017 and 2018 campaigns. In both years, the Bandits missed the playoffs with lackluster records.
While Buffalo seemed to never hit a real rough patch over the course of the regular season, New England has had its fair share of ups and downs. They come into this contest as the last seed in the East with a 9-9 record. With veterans like Callum Crawford and Stephan LeBlanc leading the offense, the Black Wolves have found streaks of success on the floor, as seen by their early wins against Eastern rival Toronto and versus the top dogs in the West in Saskatchewan. When they’re hot, they’re hot; but with only two wins in their last seven games, consistency may prove futile.
As noted, the Bandits success the last two years had been absent. That led to a number of big off-season moves including the exit of Troy Cordingley behind the bench and putting John Tavares and Rich Kilgour in charge of the team. While a co-coaching system may seem odd on the outside, Buffalo’s 14-4 record may dispel doubt.
The Bandits also saw several key off-season acquisitions on the floor, including veteran forward Corey Small, and former NLL Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc. The latter seems to be the spark that the Bandits have been missing between the pipes in several years. The St. Catherines, ON product leads the league in wins (14), goals against average (10.02), and is barely edged out in the save percentage category (.803 to Warren Hill’s .810). Add in the fact that Vinc has put in his two best statistical performances against New England this year (allowing just five goals, and six goals respectively), look for a big game from him in this one.
New England’s last meeting with Buffalo was just three weeks ago, where they fell 12-6. Going into that contest the Black Wolves knew that it was likely this matchup would happen early on in the playoffs. One major hurdle they faced was Buffalo’s strong performance in stopping the transition game. The Black Wolves did not score a single transition goal, and it showed on the scoreboard.
A few highlights for the Black Wolves though include Reilly O’Connor’s ability to feed inside the middle. The 2015 first-round pick tallied five assists, making him a contributor on all but one of his team’s goals. Doug Jamieson also looked strong in net, stopping 45 shots in a performance that could have easily been a winning effort against most other teams.
While it certainly wasn’t the outcome they were looking for, it gives Glenn Clark and the rest of the New England coaching staff a vital tool for scouting and preparation for this playoff matchup.
Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. ET at the KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. It can be watched with a subscription on the B/R Live app which is available on the web or through iTunes, Google Play, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire. Fans outside of North America can view the game via Fanseat.