The Buffalo Bandits were one goal away from their third straight East Division title.
That’s a sentence that will haunt players and fans alike over the next two weeks. Buffalo blew a five goal third quarter lead in route to a 13-12 overtime loss to the Boston Blazers on Saturday.
The loss combined with a New York Titans win against Minnesota allowed the Titans to clinch the East Division title. Buffalo will have the second seed in the East and third seed overall in the upcoming NLL playoffs.
“It was disapointing to say the least,” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. “Going into the playoffs I’m not really confident in the team right now.”
Buffalo got off to a good start, with Mark Steenhuis scoring just 54 seconds into the opening frame. Steenhuis let a blistering shot go from the restraining line that Blazers goaltender Anthony Cosmo never saw to give Buffalo the early 1-0 lead.
Consecutive Boston penalties gave the Bandits an extended 5-3, but the Blazers got a shorthanded tally from Brenden Thenhaus to even the score at one halfway through the first quarter.
Buffalo answered quickly with a Mike Accursi power play goal on the next possession. Accursi would score again just nine seconds later, giving the Bandits an early 3-1 lead and stirring the HSBC Arena crowd into an early frenzy.
Scoring would continue at a brisk pace, with Boston tying the score thanks to goals from Daryl Veltman and Dan Dawson. Accursi then scored his third of the quarter on the power play, but the two teams would exchange goals again to end the quarter. Greg Downing scored for Boston and Mark Steenhuis picked up his 50th goal of the season to end the first quarter at 5-4 in favor of the Bandits.
The Bandits would dominate the second frame, outscoring Boston 3-1 and opening up an 8-5 halftime lead. Brett Bucktooth scored his first goal of the year at the 4:11 mark of the second, and John Tavares scored two consecutive goals for Buffalo. Daryl Veltman scored the lone Boston goal.
Bucktooth was a surprise starter for the Bandits, picking up four points (1+3) in his season debut as he has missed all season recovering from shoulder surgery. After the game Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour announced the team released Cody Jacobs to make room for Bucktooth on the active roster.
John Tavares and Roger Vyse scored for Buffalo to begin the third quarter, stretching the Bandit lead to 10-5 just 2:48 into the second half. That was when the wheels fell off, with Boston catching fire for five straight goals to tie the game at ten.
Veltman, Thenhaus, and Dan Dawson all scored a goal each, and Boston also got two goals from Sean Morris to bridge the five-goal gap in just over ten minutes. Morris and Dawson would both tally seven points for Boston in the win.
“The defense thought the game was over, took a period off and let them back in the game,” coach Kilgour said of the collapse. “We didn’t make the plays when we needed them.”
Mark Steenhuis would score for Buffalo to break the tie 19 seconds into the fourth quarter. Boston answered when Daryl Veltman scored his fourth goal of the night. They would take the lead at the 2:44 mark of the fourth with a goal from Brenden Thenhaus. His third goal of the game gave Boston their first lead of the night.
The Bandits would press for the tying goal, but were unable to capitalize until late in the fourth quarter. After a number of big saves from Bandits goaltender Ken Montour kept them in it, John Tavares finally evened the score with 2:41 to play.
After a hectic final two minutes the Bandits would have the last shot for the win, but Mike Accursi would put a shot just wide.
Buffalo lost the face off to open overtime, and it would cost them dearly. Sean Morris would score his third goal of the game on the first possession of the extra session, giving Boston the 13-12 win. Morris took a shot while diving across the crease right to left on Ken Montour, who was unable to make the save.
“I knew it was coming,” said Montour of the game winner. “I got over as far as I could, but obviously his stick’s a lot longer than I am.”
The loss means only one home game is guaranteed for the Bandits in the playoffs. Buffalo will start at home against Boston in two weeks, but would need help to get another home game if they win in the first round.
“I’m not worried about anybody,” Kilgour said when asked about the playoffs. “We can beat anybody by ten goals on a given night, and that’s the disappointing part: we don’t.”
Buffalo and Boston will kick off in the first round of the NLL playoffs on Saturday, May 2 at HSBC Arena. Gametime is 7:30pm.