The only thing Darris Kilgour was worried about heading into the playoffs was his team making the same mistake twice. They didn’t.
Buffalo dropped the Boston Blazers 11-8 in front of 13,343 at HSBC Arena. The game was a rematch of the regular season finale, which Boston won in overtime 11-10. The first round playoff win means Buffalo moves on to face the New York Titans next Saturday in New Jersey.
Boston’s Brendan Thenhaus scored the opening marker, but Buffalo got off to a fast start with four straight goals. Forward Cory Bomberry got the Bandits started with a nice goal all alone on Blazers goaltender Anthony Cosmo. Bomberry took a pass from John Tavares and took a shot over Cosmo to tie the game early.
Buffalo then rattled off three goals in 62 seconds, with Mark Steenhuis scoring twice and Kyle Schmelzle scoring on a breakaway. Schmelzle, who only had two goals all season, took a long pass from Billy Dee Smith and made no mistake on the Blazers goaltender, who struggled early.
With the score 4-1 halfway through the quarter, Boston responded with three consecutive goals of their own; with Brendan Thenhaus scoring two to register the first quarter hat trick. Buffalo strugged to stay out of the penalty and collect loose balls, and the extra opportunities were cashed in by the Blazers to even the score.
Buffalo’s Sean Greenhalgh and John Tavares scored to give the Bandits another two goal lead, but Boston continued to apply pressure and would tie it up again. Goals from Matt Lyons and Daryl Veltman evened the score and gave Dan Dawson six first half points, all assists.
Buffalo would take the lead to end the half with a goal from Mike Accursi, but the game would turn into a goaltending duel in the third quarter. Buffalo’s Ken Montour and Boston’s Anthony Cosmo matched each other save for save throughout the period, and after over 15 minutes of scoreless lacrosse Daryl Veltman’s third goal of the game tied the match at seven. It was the only goal of the quarter, a rarity against Buffalo’s offense.
“You’ve got to give their defense a lot of credit,” forward Mark Steenhuis said about Boston’s third quarter defense. “When you put no points on the board for an entire quarter you have to tip your hat to them.”
Ken Montour and Anthony Cosmo each made 14 saves in the third quarter, but Montour out shined Cosmo throughout the game, making 47 saves in the win. Where Cosmo struggled early, Montour was consistent throughout, making big saves time after time to keep the slim lead down the stretch.
“Kenny has just been solid all season long,” Head Coach Darris Kilgour said about his star goaltender. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a goalie as hot as he is for as long as he’s been.”
For the second straight game the fourth quarter would decide the contest between these two teams, and Buffalo would jump out in front early with an electrifying goal from John Tavares. The star forward ran down a lob from Roger Vyse, outran the Boston defender, and scored to break the 7-7 tie and give Buffalo a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Buffalo made it a two goal lead just 2:47 into the quarter when Mark Steenhuis scored his third of the game to make it 9-7 Bandits. After a Gary Bining goal brought Boston within one, Steenhuis scored his fourth of the game to give Buffalo a 10-8 lead with 7:32 to play.
The goal came off a great play by Mike Accursi, who set a screen and made the pass to spring Steenhuis. His shot through traffic fooled Cosmo and gave the Bandits a two goal lead they wouldn’t give up this time around.
“This one was a character win for sure,” said Buffalo’s Ken Montour, who made a number of key saves down the stretch. “We needed all 18 players for us tonight. It was a big win.”
Boston would push in the final seven minutes but failed to score. A Tom Montour empty net goal with 5.5 seconds left sealed the win and sent Banditland home happy. Buffalo now moves on to face the New York Titans this Saturday at the Prudential Center.
Boston’s Daryl Veltman and Dan Dawson each finished the game with seven points, with Dawson’s coming all on assists. John Tavares led the way for Buffalo with six points (2+4). Buffalo will have a tough road to follow if they want to repeat as NLL Champions, but they seemed up to the task after the big win.
“This team’s veteran enough to know the season’s not over,” Kilgour said when asked about the team’s mindset heading into next week’s game.
“Our focus is on a championship.”