A hard-fought comeback bid by the Saskatchewan Rush forced overtime, but it was the Buffalo Bandits who stole the victory.
Chase Fraser’s goal 1:51 into OT gave the Bandits a 12-11 win – the third time Buffalo has registered a road overtime victory against the Rush (6-5) over the past four regular seasons. This Bandits’ win snapped the Rush’s current three-game winning streak.
“It’s a huge win,” said Dhane Smith, who put up a five-point effort for the Bandits (11-3). “We knew it was going to be a close game and we kind of let them back into it, but we came out with the win.”
The Rush deserve a ton of credit as they rallied from a four-goal deficit against the league-leaders, who had jumped ahead 9-5 with third-quarter run. Mark Matthews cued up the Rush comeback as he scored three of his four goals in the fourth quarter, at first pulling the Rush to within two at 9-7 with a rocket just 16 second into the final frame.
Less than two minutes later, defenceman Mike Messenger rumbled down the floor, used a screen, and fired a shot behind Bandits goalie Matt Vinc to make it 9-8. After a Bandits goal, Matthews notched his hat-trick tally with another blazing shot on the wing inside the near post.
Just 20 seconds later, Matthews racked up his fourth to make it 10-10 from the same spot on the wing, only this time going top shelf to the far side of net. The Rush finally grabbed their first lead less than two minutes later on a shot by Jeff Shattler, but the Bandits knotted the game 11-11 with 2:09 to go on a nifty backhand in tight by Shawn Evans.
Buffalo nearly pulled out the win in regulation, but Rush backup goaltender Adam Shute, who had replaced an injured Evan Kirk in the third quarter, made a miraculous diving stick save off Thomas Hoggarth on a Bandits power play with 15 seconds left.
The Bandits did escape with the win just moments after a terrific stop by Vinc against Ben McIntosh early in overtime. A shot from high in the slot from Chris Cloutier went wide, ricocheted off the end boards and the back of the Saskatchewan net, allowing Fraser to snare the ball and dive into the crease to beat Shute.
“We were arguably the better team for much of the game, but we just didn’t get the bounce at the right time,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan.
A wild first quarter saw the two teams exchange seven goals, including power-play markers for both sides and a shorthanded goal for the Bandits. Messenger’s first of the night, which evened the game at 4-4, came 34 seconds into the second quarter and was the Rush’s sixth shorthanded goal of the year. The teams went into halftime tied 5-5 before the Bandits got goals from Cloutier and Jordan Durston 29 seconds apart to jump ahead 7-5 early in the third. Buffalo’s four-goal run was bolstered by markers from Hoggarth and Corey Small.
Rounding out Saskatchewan’s scoring were McIntosh and Shattler, who each had a pair, plus a single for Ryan Keenan. Kirk, who will not play next weekend, finished with 23 saves while Shute totaled 21.
The Rush will head out on the road next Friday when they make their first trip to San Diego to take on the Seals.
“At this point in the season, we want to put together some wins especially against a division rival,” said Matthews, who ended the night with seven points.
Evans and Small both finished with a pair of goals for the Bandits with Ian MacKay and Steve Priolo also adding singles, while Vinc totaled 48 saves to earn his league-leading 11th win.
The Bandits are back home next Saturday for a clash with the Toronto Rock.