With their home win over the New England Black Wolves, the Buffalo Bandits (13-4) secured the top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the team’s opponent in the season finale, the San Diego Seals, still has plenty to play for when the teams meet on Saturday in San Diego.
Tied for the top seed in the NLL’s Western Division at 10-7, San Diego and the Saskatchewan Rush will each look to break the tie this weekend. The Seals need a win over the Bandits and a Rush loss to claim the stop seed, while Saskatchewan needs either a win over the Colorado Mammoth on the road or a Seals loss to secure the No. 1 seed in the West Division.
Winning at Pechanga Arena with the Bandits in town won’t come easy for the Seals, especially with rookie forward Austin Staats on the shelf with a torn ACL. The 2018 NLL Entry Draft’s No. 1 overall selection still leads all rookies in goals (32) and points (61) despite missing the final four games of the regular season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Without Staats, San Diego will lean on older veterans in Dan Dawson and Kyle Buchanan to get the job done against Buffalo. Dawson and Buchanan have combined for 152 points as the team’s leaders at 85 and 67, respectively.
Buffalo goaltender Matt Vinc, a 36-year-old in his 14th season in the NLL, will force Dawson, Buchanan and the rest of the Seals’ offense to get creative on the offensive end to put points on the board. Vinc leads all NLL goalies (minimum 400 minutes played) in save percentage (.801), logging 676 saves in his 17 starts. He also leads all qualifiers at the position in goals allowed per game at 10.13.
And Vinc doesn’t need to save too many shots with how much the Bandits score. Buffalo leads all NLL teams in goals per game (13.3), and they have seven-year veteran forward Dhane Smith to thank for that.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Smith leads the team in goals (31), assists (65) and points (96). His 65 assists rank second in the NLL, and he’s now scored 30 or more goals in five consecutive seasons.
Smith & Co. will tee off with the Seals starting at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. The game will be streamed live on FOX 5 San Diego and B/R Live.