Penalties, a strong Swarm defense and Lyle Thompson resulted in Buffalo’s fourth straight loss.
After falling to the Saskatchewan Rush 16-10 on Friday, the Buffalo Bandits (6-7) were held in check on the road, dropping its rematch against the Georgia Swarm (6-7) 14-10 at Infinite Energy Arena.
With the Swarm’s win, Buffalo’s two losses this weekend and the Rochester Knighthawks losing on Saturday night, the three teams sit tied for third place in the East Division. All three teams are just a game out of first place.
Buffalo received reinforcements on the defensive end with Mark Steenhuis returning from the Injured List. Forward Zach Herreweyers joined the Bandits offense looking to generate success out the front door with newcomer Shawn Evans.
While Herreweyers did score his first goal of the season and Evans turned in his second straight game with a hat trick, it was not enough to stop the rolling Swarm defense. Steenhuis and the Bandits D did not have an answer for Lyle as the 2017 NLL MVP turned in his highest scoring game this season.
“Lyle shot really well tonight,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said, “but I think part of him shooting well was on offense, we moved the ball better, and our power play, we moved our feet and created opportunities. Lyle’s a really good goal-scorer, but we wanted to make sure we gave him a chance to get good quality shoots, and he drained it tonight.”
Lyle came out strong for the Swarm with a power play goal, followed by Miles Thompson and Kiel Matisz. Craig England and Mitch Jones responded with goals of their own to end the first quarter with Georgia enjoying a 3-2 lead.
It took 59 seconds into the second quarter for Georgia to get back to work. Jesse King took advantage of a power play opportunity to score a diving goal, and Lyle and Shayne Jackson scored a power play goal each to widen the lead to 6-2.
Jerome Thompson netted an astonishing pinball shot with a second left on the shot clock, but Dhane Smith scored with an extra attacker to stop the bleeding. Ryan Wagner netted a transition goal to shrink the lead to only three goals.
Georgia and Buffalo traded goals at the end of the half. Lyle scored his hat trick off a feed from Matisz, Evans responded with his first goal of the night, and Jordan Hall finished the half with a diving goal into the top right corner. As the buzzer sounded, Georgia headed to the locker room with a 9-5 lead.
The third quarter saw Buffalo get within one thanks to goals from Smith, Evans and Herreweyers, scoring his first goal as a Bandits player. Lyle ended the quarter for the Swarm, stripping the ball away from Steve Priolo at midfield and scoring unassisted, putting the Swarm’s lead at 10-8.
“I thought we had some really good chances, and the Bandits made a couple good defensive plays and their goalie made some good saves,” Comeau said about Georgia’s third quarter where it was outscored 3-1. “We said we don’t have to change anything, we just got to keep doing what we’re doing, and hopefully, they drop for us.”
The Swarm turned in a disciplined fourth quarter, widening the lead to four goals courtesy of Miles and a shot between his own legs from Hall. Buffalo refused to go away, however. Evans would cut the lead to three goals with his hat trick. Lyle netted his fifth goal with an authoritative shot from away.
Utilizing the extra attacker with 2:07 min. left in the game, England shortened the gap to three goals again. Joel White put an end to things with an empty netter goal, his first of the season. The game’s 60 min. were up, and Georgia earned its sixth win of the season with a 14-10 score.
Georgia’s recent string of strong defensive performances continued on Sunday night. With goaltender Mike Poulin looking steady in front of the net, the Swarm has posted a 10.4 GA/GAME over its last five games. Poulin made 43 saves on 53 SOG, finishing the night with an .811 SV%.
In addition to scoring five goals, Lyle recorded an assist as well to lead the team in points on Sunday with six. Miles (2G, 3A) and King (1G, 4A) followed up with five points apiece.
“One thing that helped for me tonight was talking as an offense and really scouting the other team and scouting the other goalie,” Lyle said. “I think that’s one thing we’ve really struggled with all year is a shooting plan and committing to it. This game, we really talked everything through, communicated and committed to our shooting plan.
Bandits goaltender Zach Higgins was unable to repeat the strong performance he turned in against the Swarm a month ago. He finished with 41 saves on 54 SOG, good for a .759 SV%.
Smith finished the night with seven points (2G, 5A), followed by Evans’ hat trick and assist for four points.
After recording only an assist in his first game with Buffalo, Evans has been more productive, posting eight points (6G, 2A) this weekend. The rest of the Bandits offense is still struggling, though, with only Smith really producing. He had 15 points (5G, 10A) this weekend.
Penalties sank the Bandits on Sunday night. It committed 18 min. worth of penalties and allowed four power play goals against.
It has not had the start it wanted this season, but Georgia is treating every game like a playoff game. A game out of first place, three of its final five games at home and three of its final opponents in the East, Georgia’s season is far from over. The defending champs expect nothing less from itself other than another appearance in the Champion’s Cup.
“There’s something on the line” Poulin said. “It’s such a tight race that hopefully we can find ourselves in a position where, couple more wins at home here, we can be the team in front again like we were so used to last year. Playoff mentality, pressure games, in my eyes right now, it’s a good thing.”
Buffalo continues its road trip next week and takes on the first place New England Black Wolves (6-5) on Friday, March 23. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
New England then turns around and flies to Atlanta to take on the Swarm for the second time this season on Saturday, March 24. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Fans can catch both games LIVE on NLLTV.com.