After blowing late, fourth-quarter leads in back-to-back losses last weekend, it appeared the Buffalo Bandits were on their way to extending that troublesome pattern to three.
However, thanks to a last-second, fourth quarter penalty shot save from Davide DiRuscio and a decisive overtime goal from Mitch Jones, the Bandits (5-4) beat the Saskatchewan Rush (4-3) 19-18 on Friday night at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
For much of the third quarter, it looked as if the Bandits were poised to coast to a victory over the reigning NLL champions. However, after the Rush erased a four-goal lead, the Bandits managed to collect themselves and finish off a well-earned victory in the extra session.
In overtime, DiRuscio and Rush goaltender Aaron Bold traded several big stops before a 2-on-1 break yielded the game’s most important scoring chance.
After scooping up a loose ball, Matthew Bennett fed Jones, and Jones would finish past Bold with 3:44 gone in overtime for his fifth – and final – goal of the evening.
In a high-scoring affair, there were several offensive bright spots for both teams.
In addition to Jones’ big night, Buffalo’s Dhane Smith continued his torrid pace with an eight-point (4+4) effort. Smith now has 76 points (33+43) through nine games and leads the League in goals, assists and points.
Mark Steenhuis had seven points (1+6), Ryan Benesch had four goals, and Alex Kedoh Hill celebrated the recent birth of his child with a five-point (1+4) night.
In net, DiRuscio played a vital role in the win. After relieving starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo with just 7:52 played in the first quarter, DiRuscio went on to make 37 saves on 51 shots to earn the victory. His biggest stop came late in regulation when he stoned Robert Church on a penalty shot to help send the game into overtime.
For the Rush, the aforementioned Church (5+4) and Mark Matthews (2+7) each had nine-point nights. Ben McIntosh had six points (4+2) and Dan Taylor had five points (2+3). Bold and Tyler Carlson split the night in net, with Bold making 21 saves on 33 shots, and Carlson making eight saves on 15 shots.
The home team opened the scoring just 49 seconds into the first when Adrian Sorichetti converted past Cosmo, but the Bandits tied the game just under a minute later after Smith fed an onrushing Jones, who then fired a quick shot past Bold.
The Rush regained the lead 45 seconds later through Matthews’ first goal of the game, and a power-play goal 15 seconds later from Church pushed the Saskatchewan lead to 3-1. Church’s tally also triggered a quick hook for Cosmo as the veteran goaltender was pulled in favor of DiRuscio.
Benesch responded with a power-play goal of his own to make it 3-2, but McIntosh scored to quickly put the hosts back up two.
After McIntosh’s goal, the Bandits embarked on a four-goal run that started with Smith’s first of the night coming on the power play.
Daryl Veltman tied it at 4-4 when he picked the top corner from straightaway. Smith scored his second unassisted to give the Bandits their first lead of the night.
Just nine seconds after Smith’s second, rookie Anthony Malcom scored after taking a pass from Steenhuis to make it 6-4. Malcom’s goal saw Saskatchewan make their own change in net with Carlson replacing Bold.
McIntosh scored his second of the night with 32 seconds left in the quarter to make it 6-5 in favor of the Bandits heading into the second.
The Rush opened the second quarter with a three-goal run of their own. Taylor scored his first career NLL goal with 1:09 played, and Sorichetti scored 27 seconds later to put Saskatchewan back up by one, and Nik Bilic scored unassisted to make it 8-6.
Buffalo tied things back up with a pair of goals in quick succession. Mitch Wilde scored with 3:15 played, and Smith followed up 23 seconds later to complete his hat trick.
A little over four minutes later, Matthews scored his second of the night to make it 9-8 in favor of the Rush, but Benesch tied things back up with his second just 28 seconds later.
A pair of special teams goals put Saskatchewan back up two. McIntosh completed his hat trick on the power play, and Church’s second, which came shorthanded, provided the highlight of the night with a beautiful, diving wraparound goal from behind DiRuscio.
Smith wrapped up the scoring in the second with 1:19 remaining in the quarter. The tally was Smith’s fourth of the night and his seventh point of the first half, and it made the game 11-10 in favor of Saskatchewan at the break.
Benesch opened the scoring in the third quarter and tied the game at 11-11 with just 22 seconds played, but McIntosh’s fourth of the night with 3:01 played put the Rush back up by one.
Benesch’s fourth of the night came just 38 seconds later, and it initiated a five-goal run that helped the Bandits open up a four-goal advantage.
Hill scored 24 seconds after Benesch to give the Bandits a 13-12 lead, and Steenhuis scored less than a minute later to push the lead to two. Wilde and Jones each scored their second goals of the night to make it 16-12.
Saskatchewan ended the Buffalo run through Taylor’s second of the game with 2:07 left in the third. Taylor’s goal was the final tally from either team in the third quarter, and the Bandits would head to the fourth up 16-13.
The Rush cut the lead to two through Bilic’s second of the game with 2:32 played in the fourth, but Jones completed his hat trick to restore the Bandits’ three-goal advantage.
Church scored his third and fourth goal of the night within a minute of each other to trim the lead to one, but Jones responded yet again with his fourth of the night to make it 18-16 with just over four minutes remaining.
Jarrett Davis scored with 3:29 left to cut the lead to one, and the late drama then ensued.
With 35 seconds remaining, Church’s fifth goal of the night would tie the game at 18-18, and he would have an opportunity to win the game on a penalty shot after the Bandits were penalized for too many men on the floor. However, DiRuscio would come up big and keep Church’s attempt out to send the game into overtime.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Mitch Jones
2) Robert Church
3) Dhane Smith
Story by Zach Hirschbeck for Bandits.com. Photo by Josh Schaefer.