Once again, the Buffalo Bandits started fast and got out to an early lead, but it was the 4-0 run to end the game that proved to be the difference Saturday night.
After the Philadelphia Wings tied the game at 10 with just over nine minutes remaining, Shawn Evans scored on a behind-the-back goal to regain the lead for Buffalo. Goals from Dhane Smith, Evans again, and Thomas Hoggarth provided the Bandits the cushion they needed in a 14-10 home victory at KeyBank Center.
The win moves the Bandits to 4-1 on the season, currently tying them for first in the East Division with the Toronto Rock. The loss drops the Wings to 0-5 in their inaugural season in the NLL.
The Bandits were led by Smith with eight points (2+6), Corey Small with six (3+3) and Hoggarth with 4 (2+2). The Bandits have won three in a row and wrap up their four-game homestand with a 3-1 record.
“We found a way to win,” coach John Tavares said. “Last year, we probably would have lost that game in terms of having the bye week and things not going our way, but we found a way to score in the fourth quarter.
“I think we had a great first half, but our guys got comfortable and they [Philadelphia] came out really hard. They made a game of it in the third quarter, but we pulled it together in the fourth and buried our chances.”
In all five of the Bandits games this season, they were the ones that scored first. It’s something that sets the tone for the rest of the game, according to Smith.
“Getting that first one on the board gets everyone up whether it be in the transition game or our offense putting the ball in the net,” Smith said.
In the first quarter, Ian MacKay was set up by a beautiful tip pass by Matthew Bennett that led to a breakaway goal to give the Bandits the early 1-0 lead. Hoggarth continued to add instant offense with his 11th goal of the season and first of the game to make it 2-0.
Ethan O’Connor capitalized on a 2-on-1 opportunity as Buffalo’s lead quickly grew to three. Less than two minutes later, Jordan Durston shot one by Wings goalie Doug Buchan to give the Bandits a 4-0 lead.
The Wings finally found the back of the net, but the ball crossed the goal line after time expired so the goal was disallowed and the Bandits led after the first quarter 4-0.
However, Philadelphia opened up the scoring in the second quarter with a goal by Matt Rambo just 57 seconds into action. Durston added his second goal of the game with a behind-the-back goal in front of the net to make it 5-1 Bandits. Just 17 seconds later, Small expanded the Bandits lead to five.
Buffalo was able to convert on the powerplay with seven minutes left in the half with Small’s second goal of the game and the Bandits were running away from the Wings early with a 7-1 lead.
After two Philadelphia goals, Small was at it again with his third goal of the quarter and he ended up with three of the four Bandits goals in the second. The Wings added a late goal by Crowley, but Buffalo went into the halftime break up 8-4.
Josh Byrne left midway through the game with an injury, but the Bandits focused on a next man up mentality.
“I think each night I’m expected to produce at least a few goals so I’m just happy to contribute and do my job,” Small said. “It’s tough to see Josh go down, but we had a few guys step up. MacKay was great, Durston was great, and we had a few big goals down the stretch.”
The third quarter was all Philadelphia. The Wings opened up the second half with two more goals from Kiel Matisz to cut the Bandits lead to 8-6. Crowley added another goal a few minutes later and just like that, the Bandits lead was down to one.
Dhane Smith was able to stop the bleeding with a 4-on-4 goal late in the third quarter to give the Bandits a two-goal lead. However, Philadelphia came right back to make it 9-8 Bandits going into the final quarter of play.
The Wings were able to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, but Chase Fraser quickly responded for Buffalo to regain the lead. After the Wings tied the game at 10, Evans provided the game-winning goal to make it 11-10. Smith added his second goal of the game off a nice pass from Small to bump the Buffalo lead up to 12-10.
“Both myself and Shawn [Evans] were struggling through three quarters and we weren’t putting the ball in the net,” Smith said. “We knew if we stuck to the game plan, then the ball would drop eventually.”
The two additional goals from Evans and Hoggarth made it 14-10 and that 4-0 Bandits run ended up being the difference in the end.
“We talked about all week how this was a trap game where if we take them too light, they can sneak one on us,” Small said. “They came out hot in the third and we were stagnant and slow. But we have a good core group of veterans and guys who have been around. These are the types of character games where a team steals momentum and you take it back.”
The Bandits will hit the road next week for two games. The first of which is at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26 against the Rochester Knighthawks. Then, they will travel to New England for a 6 p.m. faceoff on Sunday, Jan. 27 against the New England Black Wolves.