With a postseason berth well within their reach, the Buffalo Bandits (8-7) host the Vancouver Stealth (5-11) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Buffalo needs just one more win, or a loss from the New England Black Wolves, to clinch the third and final playoff spot in the East. Vancouver will use the game as a tune up of sorts ahead of the team’s Week 18 play-in matchup against the Calgary Roughnecks for the final berth in the West. Watch Stealth at Bandits live on UniversalSports.com (laptop/desktop) & USN app (mobile/tablet) in the U.S. and on TSN GO in Canada.
Buffalo is coming off a bye week after a solid road win in Minnesota in Week 15, which eliminated the Swarm from playoff contention.
“We need some wins, we have to try to make the playoffs ourselves,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “We also have to make sure that we stick to the plan and make sure that we’re 100% buying-in here, that’s how you win in this league.”
With the “magic number” for Buffalo making the playoffs being just one, the Bandits would like to finish up the race for a spot in the postseason on Saturday with a win over the Stealth. The team will head to New England to face the Black Wolves, who need to win out and have Buffalo lose out to get into the postseason, on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
“We don’t want to wait for New England to lose or have somebody else help us to get in. We want to do ourselves a favor and be ready to go Saturday night,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “Hopefully we can win Saturday, so if guys aren’t 100% we can rest them before the playoffs.”
Buffalo can no longer overtake Rochester or Toronto for the division, so they will be on the road should they clinch the last playoff spot.
Buffalo is hosting Tucker Out Lymphoma night on Saturday to take a stand against cancer in honor of NLL ironman Shawn Williams’ son Tucker who passed away last year after a battle with cancer. The cause serves as a reminder to all that there a bigger things in life than sports.
“It’s going to be unbelievably emotional. When you’ve got kids, it puts things in perspective. The lacrosse family is a big one,” said Teat. “Lacrosse is just a game. When you see a family and an eight-year-old go through what they did, it’s going to make for a very emotional night.”
“I think it’s huge for our organization to do something like this in honor of such a great kid and such a great family. Having the privilege of playing with Shawn and realizing what kind of person he is, it really hits home with me,” said Bandits forward Mark Steenhuis. “I think it’s a massive motivator, that family should be everyone’s heroes. Hopefully we can get a win for them.”
Both John Tavares and Steenhuis had a good practice Tuesday night and it appears they should both be in the lineup on Saturday.
It is not too often that a team fighting for their playoff lives gets a free pass this late in the season. But that is the situation the Stealth find themselves in. Vancouver is a half-game behind the Calgary Roughnecks (6-11) for the West Division’s last playoff spot. But Calgary is off this week and the two teams play a crucial game at Langley Events Centre in Week 18. A Vancouver victory in that game would give the Stealth the head-to-head season series tiebreaker, three games to one.
But for Stealth head coach Dan Perreault, it is business as usual for the team this week in Buffalo.
“It is a tune-up (game) but we do have to be playing well moving forward,” said coach Dan Perreault. “I thought we competed well the last two weekends. We didn’t get the result last weekend but I liked the effort the fellas put in. It was a good Rochester team.”
The Stealth ended a lengthy losing streak two weeks ago by defeating the New England Black Wolves 11-9 for just its second road victory in eight tries but the Knighthawks kept the Vancouver win streak at one game with a 13-9 win in Week 17.
This weekend’s game is a rematch of Week 3 when the Bandits defeated the Stealth in B.C., 14-13. Despite this weekend’s contest not meaning anything in terms of playoff positioning, that is not the mindset Vancouver will take.
“We are not going to get too creative at this point in time,” Perreault said when asked if he might try a few wrinkles in the game plan.
“There is not much you are going to throw in at this time of year.”
“We just have to do the little things right and the compete level has to be there,” he added. “And we have to play for 60 minutes.”
Perreault would not tip his hand in terms of goaltending as Tyler Richards returned last week but rookie Eric Penney got the start. The Stealth also get defender Rory Smith back from his two-game suspension.
“We haven’t decided on our starter yet, but Tyler is available,” Perreault said.
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) and Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.