The Toronto Rock scored 17 goals in the first meeting with Buffalo back on Dec. 21. It looked like history might repeat itself as Toronto was up 4-0 after the first quarter. However, Matt Vinc and the Buffalo Bandits defense shut the Rock down for the rest of the game.
The Bandits came away with a hard-earned 8-6 home victory over Toronto on Saturday night in front of a raucous home crowd at KeyBank Center. The game had all the makings of a playoff atmosphere with both teams battling for the top spot in the Eastern Division.
With the win, Buffalo took a huge step toward securing home field advantage. They are now 12-3 on the season while Toronto falls to 8-5 after an 0-2 weekend for them. The Bandits are one game ahead of the Georgia Swarm for first place in the NLL with just three games remaining.
In a game with very few goals, it was the goaltenders on both sides who shined the brightest. Even in defeat, Toronto goalie Nick Rose made 53 saves on 61 shots. Vinc was also stellar in net for the Bandits, stopping 36 of the 42 shots he faced.
“In any sport, the great goalies can put those early goals past them quickly,” head coach John Tavares said. “If you dwell on the previous goal, then the next thing you know another one is by you. Vno is a professional and that’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the world.”
In terms of offense, Buffalo was led by their stars. Dhane Smith led the way with three goals, while Josh Byrne returned to the lineup with two goals of his own and three points. Thomas Hoggarth also had a strong performance with three points (1+2).
“I thought offensively we played really well and I don’t think the score indicates how well we played offensively,” Vinc said. “Nick [Rose] played unbelievable so hats off to him because he gave his team a chance to win. Fortunately for us, we scored some timely goals in order to give us a cushion late in the game.”
It took nearly seven minutes for the first goal as Toronto’s Tom Schreiber made it 1-0 Rock in the opening quarter. About 90 seconds later, the Rock made it 2-0 when Challen Rogers beat Matt Vinc. The rough first quarter continued for Buffalo when Brandon Slade scored the third Toronto goal to make it 3-0.
“We knew they would come out flying and they took it to us, but we were able to slow down that momentum,” Smith said. “In the second half it showed that we had more legs than them and we came away with the win.”
Toronto was able to tack on one more goal before the end of the first quarter when Billy Hostrawser grabbed a rebound and finished to make it 4-0 Rock.
“Our offense started off a little slow, but our defense and Vno kept us in the game until we tied it up,” Smith said. “We kept rolling and that shows a championship team right there.”
The good news for the Bandits is they flipped the script completely in the second quarter. Smith got the Bandits on the board with a power play goal to give the building some life early in the second quarter.
“Dhane is someone who leads this offense,” Tavares said. “Along with Shawn [Evans], they are leaders and they find ways to score big goals. Dhane buried his opportunities tonight and overall he played a great game.”
They carried that momentum into the middle of the second quarter as Hoggarth cut the Bandits deficit to two goals. Josh Byrne got in on the action as he scored his first goal since returning from injury to make it 4-3 Toronto.
Buffalo pulled even when Jordan Durston scored a transition goal off a beautiful lead pass from Justin Martin. With less than 30 seconds left in the first half, the Rock pulled their goalie to have an extra attacker. They failed to score as Vinc grabbed the ball and fired it down the field and into the net. The only problem was it occurred after the buzzer so the goal was disallowed and the first half ended with a 4-4 tie.
The theme of the first half was strong defense and strong goaltending and that trend continued in the second half. It wasn’t until halfway through the third quarter when Buffalo took their first lead of the game.
Byrne scored his second goal of the game to make it 5-4 Buffalo as they were on a five-goal scoring run. Smith also added his second goal of the game late in the third and the Bandits were up 6-4 after three quarters.
Vinc continued his strong play as Buffalo held Toronto without a goal for both the second and third quarters of the game. Toronto scored their first goal since the end of the first quarter with 13:28 left in regulation as Johnny Powless made it 6-5 Bandits.
“I thought our team did a great job,” Vinc said. “We got in a lot of lanes and took away a lot of shots. That’s a great defensive effort on our part and especially in the second, third and fourth quarters. We really buckled down and played some of our best defensive lacrosse.”
Smith and Schreiber traded goals less than 30 seconds apart and Buffalo kept the one goal lead at 7-6 with under 12 minutes to play. The Bandits were able to capitalize on a 3-on-1 transition opportunity as Kevin Brownell made it 8-6 to give the Bandits some breathing space.
The Rock went on the power play with 3:58 remaining in regulation with Buffalo ahead by two goals, but Vinc stopped them once again to help the Bandits earn the two-goal victory.
“At the end of the day, good teams find a way to win and we were able to do that,” Byrne said. “The last time we played these guys we got out to a 5-1 lead and they came back to beat us. So we know the first quarter doesn’t mean everything whether you’re up four goals or down four goals. We just need to keep level heads, stick to our system, and we were able to do that for most of the game.”
The Bandits will be off next week so the next game will also be against the Rock, but this time it will be in Toronto. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 5.