Despite being eliminated from the NLL postseason race with their loss on Saturday night, the New England Black Wolves (4-11) return home to Mohegan Sun Arena and set their sights on putting on a show against the Buffalo Bandits (9-7) on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
The Bandits clinched a playoff berth and eliminated the Black Wolves from postseason contention with their 17-9 win over the Vancouver Stealth on Saturday night at home.
Buffalo had a big night from both Ryan Benesch (4+5) and Mark Steenhuis (7+2) who both tallied nine points in the win. Although the Bandits were excited to have clinched a playoff berth, they realize these last two games are important heading into the postseason.
“I think we need to get everything in place. Even though the games don’t mean anything in the standings, we want to fine tune things. These games mean a lot for our momentum and our systems and we want to be consistent,” said Steenhuis. “It will be awesome to see some other guys get in the lineup. There might be some guys who might impress our fans. With or without them in the lineup, we’re a good team.”
“We still want to continue to get better. We want to keep working on the little things and not get ahead of ourselves,” said head coach Troy Cordingley. “We need to play as a team and have guys buying in 100%, and then we’ll go places.”
Buffalo can’t catch Toronto or Rochester in the standings, so they will be on the road for the playoffs, but they accomplished their first goal which was to make it to the postseason.
“Toronto and Rochester are two great teams, but we can’t look ahead. New England has beat us twice this season and we want redemption,” Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo said. “We have to keep the ball rolling and fix the things that need fixing before playoffs start.”
Cosmo also said he’d like to play both games against New England rather than rest.
“I want to be at my best before the playoffs start,” added Cosmo, “We see these two remaining games are opportunities for us.”
The pack had hoped to survive Saturday night with a win and a Buffalo loss, but a loss in Rochester and the Bandits taking care of business at home spelled the end of the Black Wolves’ playoff hopes.
New England knew it would take a perfect storm of sorts to escape the weekend with its Champion’s Cup chances intact.
“Hopefully Vancouver can come in and play a game they’re capable of playing,” said Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison earlier in the week. “Not to take anything away from the Bandits; they’re a fine team and a great organization. We’ve got ourselves into a bit of a hole. We don’t control our own destiny. We do need help, and it may or may not come. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
With the season ending next week, the Black Wolves are looking closely at the players who are making contributions and those who are falling behind. Though the season isn’t over yet, the NLL’s newest team is ready to make the necessary adjustments for the future.
“I’m sure every team is going through that process in some degree or another; it certainly is the case with us,” Harrison said. “You look back at the season, we’ve played a very tough Toronto team and we lost two games in a total of four goals. We’ve had some nice luck against Buffalo, and we split with Rochester. We feel that we’re kind of close, but the record is not indicative of that.”
“These last four games really go a long way to see who we have in the locker room. Some guys will play themselves out of a job probably if they pack it in. Some guys will race to the top if they continue to play and compete the way you expect to in a professional league,” added Harrison.
The Black Wolves could gain some confidence going forward by taking a 3-0 season series lead over the Bandits with a win.
“We can bring a compete level that is expected in this league,” Harrison said. “That’s really the focus, to try and limit as many mental mistakes as we can and get the guys focused and plugged in.”
The Black Wolves and Bandits both have a doubleheader weekend and no matter what happens, win or lose, the Black Wolves will play until the final whistle.
“We’re still professionals and we still owe it to our fans and our organization and our ownership group to put the best effort forward,” Harrison said. “We play to do that either way.”
By Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.