The Buffalo Bandits (13-5) clinched first place in the NLL with a 12-7 win over the New England Black Wolves (10-7) at First Niagara Center on Saturday night. The capacity crowd of 19,070 not only got to see a win, but they got to see Bandits forward Dhane Smith (4+2) break another record. With his fourth goal of the game, Smith notched a league record 72 goals this season. Last week in Rochester, Smith scored his 131st point of the year to break the previous scoring record set by Black Wolves forward Shawn Evans.
“The record was in the back of my mind and the guys helped me through it. We played very well as a team,” said Smith. “It was a great win for the team. It’s a good feeling, being first in the whole division.”
Smith opened the scoring for the Bandits 1:56 into the game. Evans answered for the Wolves before Smith and Malcom scored two more for Buffalo. Kevin Buchanan scored the last goal to bring New England within one.
Buffalo got its two goal lead back with another goal from Smith. Kyle Buchanan tallied his first goal before the Bandits ripped off four straight goals to end the half with an 8-2 lead.
Brett Bucktooth scored for the Black Wolves to open the scoring in the third quarter. Ryan Benesch found the back of the net before Steenhuis tallied twice and gave Buffalo an 11-4 lead. Jordan Hall stopped Buffalo’s run, but the Bandits took an 11-5 lead into the final frame.
The fourth quarter’s first goal was scored by Benesch and gave Buffalo a seven goal lead. Hall and Pat Saunders cut the lead down to five. The Wolves made a change in goal from Evan Kirk to Ty Belanger with six minutes to go and began pulling the goaltender in favor of the extra attacker.
Buffalo’s four goal run in the second quarter and their three goal third quarter run sealed their win. The Bandits had a solid effort at both ends of the floor.
“We had a lot of offensive rebounds which created opportunities and wore down their defense. Defensively we really good and in position. When we did break down, Dave [DiRuscio] was really solid,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “Coach Rich [Kilgour] made some adjustments on how we cleared the ball out of our own end. JT [Coach John Tavares] has been huge for us. The best thing he has our offense is doing is sharing the ball.”
“We got behind the eight ball against a team that like to go on runs,” said Black Wolves forward Kyle Buchanan. “We can’t do that moving forward, and we hope to see them again.”
After setting the record for points in a season at 130 last season, Wolves star Shawn Evans (1+0) finished the game with 118 points, second only to Smith.
Despite the loss, New England will host the Georgia Swarm in the first round of the East Division playoffs next weekend. Their team is incredibly proud of their accomplishments so far this year and they’re looking forward to the playoffs.
“From last season to this season, we’ve taken some really big steps. There are nine really good teams in this league, it’s about who shows up game to game,” said Buchanan. “Tonight was a tough one for us but we’ll take the positives and move forward. We have to show up tomorrow against a good Rochester team and we’re looking forward to having Georgia at home.”
Buffalo goaltender Anthony Cosmo left the game with an injury in the first quarter after a collision in his crease. Backup goaltender Davide DiRuscio took over and stopped 43 of the 49 shots he faced. Black Wolves goaltender Evan Kirk stopped 38 of 50 in the loss.
“Dave comes in cold off the bench, not expecting to play and he’s in five minutes into the game,” said Cordingley. “What he did is really impressive.”
Buffalo forward Mark Steenhuis (4+3) also hit a career milestone in ‘Banditland.’ With an assist in the third quarter he notched his 900th career point as a member of the Bandits.
The Bandits have earned a first round bye in the East Division Playoffs. New England returns to action tomorrowhosting the Rochester Knighthawks at 6:00 PM.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Dhane Smith
2) Mark Steenhuis
3) Davide DiRuscio
Steve Bermel for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.