The Buffalo Bandits may have the best record in the NLL, but Saturday showed they have plenty of room for improvement.
Buffalo dropped a 16-15 final against the Minnesota Swarm in front of a crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena. The Bandits held multi-goal leads all night but allowed five straight goals from Minnesota late in the fourth quarter. The loss is their first at home this season, and sends Buffalo into the All Star Break with a 7-2 record.
“We didn’t play hard enough. We didn’t play smart enough” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgore. “We lost focus.”
After Mark Steenhuis opened the scoring for Buffalo, Minnesota took a 2-1 lead midway through the first quarter with goals from Chad Culp and Kevin Ross. The Bandits answered with three goals in seventy seconds to end the quarter, including Steenhuis’ second of the night.
Buffalo’s John Tavares added to the lead with two straight in the second, including a shorthanded tally to make the score 6-2. The goal would be challenged by Minnesota but upheld. Tavares would answer a Minnesota goal with a power play tally of his own, his fourth goal of the night. Sean Greenhalgh would add another power play goal to give the Bandits an 8-3 lead with less than five minutes left in the second. Greenhalgh’s goal chased Swarm netminder Kevin Croswell, who allowed eight goals on just 14 shots.
Minnesota closed the gap to 8-7 with four straight goals to end the half, including two from Aaron Wilson. Wilson netted the hat trick just 1:04 into the third, and Kevin Buchannan’s second of the night gave Minnesota their first lead since the early in the first. After Minnesota made it 10-8, Buffalo closed the gap to one with a power play goal from Mike Accursi.
The sellout crowd saw a wild fourth quarter, with twelve goals scored between the two teams. Bandits’ defenseman Chris White picked up an illegal cross checking major and game misconduct just 14 seconds into the quarter, giving the Swarm a five minute power play. A Clay Hill check from behind gave Minnesota a 5 on 3 just 14 seconds later, and Aaron Wilson capitalized with his fourth goal of the night to give the Swarm a 11-9 lead.
Buffalo answered with two shorthanded goals from Accursi and Steenhuis, and took the lead with a Roger Vyse power play goal just over halfway through the quarter. Accursi and Steenhuis would each add one more goal, making it five straight for the Bandits. Each player would finish with four on the night along with Tavares, who led the team with seven points.
Minnesota stormed right back with five goals of their own in just over three minutes, including two by Kevin Ross. Marhol’s behind the net goal gave Minnesota a 16-14 lead with one minute left on the clock. The comeback was the Storm’s second string of five or more goals in the game, and it proved too much for Buffalo to overcome.
“It was a roller coaster game,” said Buffalo’s John Tavares. “We can’t give away leads all the time. We have to learn to step on peoples’ throats and bury them when we have the chance.”
Cory Bomberry scored for the Bandits with the extra attacker on to make it 16-15, but Buffalo couldn’t tie it before time expired.
The Swarm may have played Friday night in Toronto but they were ready for the Bandits, winning battles on the boards and getting to loose balls late in the game.
“We don’t play often enough to really be tired”, Coach Kilgore said. “They will have a lot to think about for two weeks.”
Bandits goaltender Ken Montour made 39 saves in the loss, while Minnesota’s Nick Patterson stopped 24 of 31 shots faced in relief to pick up the win.
After the NLL All Star Game, Buffalo travels to Rochester to take on the Knighthawks on March 14th.
Notes: Bandits were outshot 55-45 in the game, including a 22-13 margin in the final quarter. Buffalo went 5 for 9 on the power play, while Minnesota went 3 for 12. Steenhuis’ four goal performance marks the fifth time he has scored at least four goals this season. Minnesota went 21/35 on faceoffs, with Travis Hill notching 18 wins. Minnesota’s 16 goals ties Buffalo’s season high in goals allowed (Toronto 2/20).