The three-time defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks took the next step in their quest for an unprecedented 4-Peat by defeating their Thruway rival Buffalo Bandits in the East Division Semifinal of the NLL Playoffs by a score of 14-11 at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night.
With the win, the Knighthawks have now won 12 straight playoff games at home. Their last home playoff loss came at the hands of the Bandits back on April 17, 2004. The Knighthawks also won all four meetings against the Bandits this season.
“It’s tough to beat anyone four times,” said Bandits forward John Tavares. “So give them credit for beating us.”
Home floor advantage in the postseason for any length of time is the next step after making the playoffs and tonight showed why. The atmosphere at the BCA was amazing in the lead up to the game. The 6,527 fans in attendence were split on their fandom. And even though the denizens of Banditland made the trek down the Thruway and made their voices heard, the Knighthawks faithful were still able to make their presence felt.
“Getting into the playoffs is step one,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “Getting homefield afvantage is step two.”
“A home playoff game is very important,” Tavares said. “Home floor advantage is key, just having that extra confidence, that familiarity with the home arena and the routine of it all, it makes a big difference.”
It seems fitting that a former Bandit rose to the occasion against his former team in the playoffs. Joe Resetarits was traded by the Bandits in exchange for defender Jamie Batson from the Knighthawks. Batson was a scratch for the game. Resetarits scored four times against his old team to lead the Knighthawks, including a natural hat trick in the third after the Bandits got back within one at 8-7.
“There was a lot of emotions,” said Resetarits. “Before the game, I was thinking a lot. But once it got close to game time, I just flushed it all out and realized it was a playoff game more than that… When you’ve got all those guys that can just get you the ball, it’s a matter of time. You just have to put it in. You’re going to get a lot of chances with this team.”
“Joey Res, he’s been good every time, ever since he stepped into this lineup for us,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “He’s quick, he’s dynamic, he can finish, and he does a lot of little things for the guy beside him. He’s been a great, welcome addition and it seems like he has been here for years because he’s rolling with these guys and these guys are rolling with him.”
“I think Joe had a little something to prove,” Dawson said. “I don’t think anyone likes to be traded, especially when that’s your hometown. Joe kind of made a statement tonight. He’s a competitor and he’s a big reason why we won tonight.”
Resetarits may have led the Knighthawks in goals, but when it comes to the playoffs, it always seems that the spotlight finds Cody Jamieson. Jamieson finished the night with nine points (2+7) to lead all scorers.
“When the chips are down, we rely on him to do a lot of things,” Hasen said. “Tonight, it was good. Got two good, big goals and did a lot of little things that showed up on the scoresheet but a lot of little things that did not show up on the scoresheet. Getting off the floor late in that fourth quarter to stop their transition and not allow them to run on us was a big thing.”
Even though the Bandits opened the scoring 26 seconds in, they trailed 5-2 after one. The Bandits stayed close the rest of the night but could never quite dig themselves all the way out. During the regular season, the Bandits were 9-0 when scoring the first goal of the game.
“We were not good tonight,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “It’s disappointing the way that we were playing down the stretch, but they’re the champs and taught us another lesson. They outwilled us in every aspect of the game. It’s a bitter pill here.”
“We came out, I thought we were flat,” Tavares said. “We didn’t give up, but they kept pouring it on when they had to.”
The Bandits offense was on fire down the stretch of the regular season, helping key a four-game winning streak. The Knighthawks defense kept that red-hot offense in check early and always seemed to make the necessary plays down the stretch. Some off-target passing by the Bandits certainly helped though. So was it the self-inflicted wounds that did the Bandits in or was it the relentless Knighthawks defense?
“It’s a combination of both,” Cordingley said. “They’re the best defensive unit in the league. But we weren’t doing the things we did in the previous four or five games where we were successful moving the ball and attacking with speed. We played right into their hands. We didn’t spread out. We talk about runs during the game. When we did that, we were effective and got great shots off and uncontested shots. We just didn’t follow the gameplan tonight… There wasn’t an area we won.”
“They took us out of our gameplan,” Tavares said. “We’ve been moving the ball a lot, sharing the ball. It seemed not to move as much. They were forcing us down and we were trying to not do that. They were kind of dictating what was happening to our offense instead of us dictating what we wanted to do. So kudos to their defense too.”
“Those guys do what they do,” Hasen said. “They just make it hard. They get in lanes. They do their best to allow ‘V’ (goalie Matt Vinc) to see the ball and make those easy saves. At the end of the day, they shut the door when they had to.”
“We did a good job matching their intensity,” Resetarits said. “We knew it was going to be a game just like that. Buffalo is a great team. They’ve been playing great the end of the year. We knew it was going to be a dog fight but we stuck to the way we play. It’s going to be tough to beat us especially at home when we’re playing like that.”
“It was a battle right from the get go,” Hasen said. “Whenever these two teams meet to play, it’s always a battle. It was another one here right to the end. It was good. A lot of guys stepped up tonight.”
Just when it seemed like the Bandits were pushing late in the fourth quarter, another Knighthawks forward stepped up to deliver the proverbial dagger. This time, it was Stephen Keogh with 4:39 left to restore the three-goal lead and the final margin of victory.
“It was kind of like one of those ‘nail in the coffins’ for the most part,” Hasen said. “He had tons of opportunities and finally one dropped for him. It was well-needed and it seemed like a long time coming for him tonight.”
Tavares had five assists in the loss. After a tough, injury-plagued season that saw him play in only 10 regular season games, this was statistically his best game of the season. That was little consolation.
“We lost the game,” Tavares said. “If I had gotten five goals, I couldn’t care less if we lost the game. It really doesn’t matter. I wish I scored more to help our team win, no question, but no matter how you look at it, we lost the game. There’s nothing that’s going to keep me satisfied from that game.”
The Knighthawks have eliminated the Bandits in the playoffs in back-to-back years.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Cordingley said. “You put all the time and effort into it, and to have a big game like this and not to perform, we’ve got some problems.”
The Knighthawks host the Toronto Rock next Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET for Game 1 of the East Division Finals before the series shifts to Air Canada Centre for Game 2 in Toronto on Saturday, May 23 at 7 p.m. ET.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Joe Resetarits
2) Cody Jamieson
3) Dhane Smith
By Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.