With a victory over the Bandits, the Rock would put themselves in excellent position to clinch a playoff spot, needing a loss from either Rochester or New England later this weekend. The Knighthawks are on the road against the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday while the visiting Black Wolves take on the West Division leading Saskatchewan Rush later Saturday night.
The Rock come into Friday holding a one-game lead on New England for second in the East Division. However for the Bandits, the situation is much more dire. Buffalo currently sits tied with Rochester at one-and-a-half games behind New England for the final playoff spot. Although, Buffalo would not be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with a loss on Friday, the Bandits know the situation is desperate.
“Friday’s game is our season to be quite honest with you,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley told NLL.com. “We haven’t had a good year this year compared to what we did last year. It’s been a frustrating one. We still have some hope here. It’s one game at a time. This is a huge game for us.”
Both teams are aiming to halt respective losing streaks coming into Friday. The Bandits have dropped three straight, falling to Rochester, Saskatchewan and Calgary over the last three weeks. Coming off a bye week, the Rock had previously dropped two straight on the road in Vancouver and New England.
“The boys obviously realize the opportunity is there,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said on his team’s playoff-clinching scenario. “But first, we just want to get playing better. We have a bad taste in our mouth [from our last two games]. We want to find our game and we want to be performing at the highest level.”
This is the third of four meetings between the two rivals this year. The Rock pummeled the Bandits 18-10 on Feb. 3 in Toronto while Buffalo evened the season series at the KeyBank Center, beating the Rock 15-12 on Feb. 25.
“The first game [in Toronto] might have been the worse game we’ve ever played, since I’ve been [here] anyway,” Cordingley recalled. “We weren’t very good. It was early in the year where we weren’t connecting…It’s a great rivalry that we have with Toronto. Those divisional games are huge. It’s going to be a grind.”
Coach Matt Sawyer agreed that there is always a special feeling when the Bandits and Rock meet.
“There is no secret. We both know each other very well,” Sawyer said. “They are our biggest rival. It’s crunch time now. We expect them to be totally different from the first two meetings. There is a lot on the line.”
The two teams will meet again for the final game of the regular season in Buffalo on April 29.
The Bandits haven’t been able to reproduce the same success as last season when the squad came within two wins of the Champion’s Cup. However, Buffalo can still pose a threat offensively with team-leading scorer and 2016 NLL MVP Dhane Smith (24G, 44A). The Bandits power play has also been a bright spot, leading the league at 60.34 per cent.
The Rock have consistently been the league’s top defensive team all season, surrendering a league-best 10.47 goals-per-game. Toronto has also had a solid balance between younger players and veteran presence. Rookie-leading scorer Tom Schreiber (28G, 52A) has been excellent up front, leading the team in points while veteran Brett Hickey is tied for fifth in NLL goals (34).
Friday’s matchup is a 7:30 p.m. ET start as the Rock celebrate their final regular-season home game with Fan Appreciation Night. Following the game, fans will have a chance to come down to the turf at the Air Canada Centre to meet their idols and to get an autograph. There are also many great prizes to be won. Check out www.torontorock.com for tickets and more details.