After a season of ups and downs, the Buffalo Bandits finally had everything working right, and just in time.
The Bandits picked up a big win on Saturday night and clinched a playoff birth thanks to a nine-point game from forward Mark Steenhuis and a 46-save performance from goaltender Mike Thompson.
The Bandits beat the Boston Blazers 13-10 and locked up the third seed in the NLL East division playoffs. Buffalo will now face the Toronto Rock on May 1 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Buffalo scored early and often in the first quarter, beating Boston goaltender Anthony Cosmo for seven goals on 14 shots, including a number of highlight reel goals. Bandits forward Brett Bucktooth scored a shorthanded goal between his legs, and a diving John Tavares electrified the crowd of 18,480 with a goal from behind the net on a feed from forward Mike Accursi. Accursi finished the game with a six points and John Tavares notched seven in what was a must-win game for the club.
“I think 9-7, that’s a pretty good first half offensively,” said Bandits forward Mark Steenhuis, who had a goal and eight assists on the night.
Things slowed down in the second quarter, and the Blazers fought back with three goals in the period, including Cotter’s third of the game at the 5:57 mark of the quarter. Tavares scored again on a brief power play for the Bandits, and after a Mat Giles goal cut the Bandits’ lead to one, Mike Accursi made it 9-7 with his third goal of the half.
The teams traded chances early in the third quarter, but neither team would score until almost eight minutes into the third, when Tavares recorded his third of the game to extend the lead to 10-7. Steenhuis scored on the power play, and Frank Resetarits added another goal for Buffalo and gave the Bandits a five-goal lead to end the third quarter.
After Buffalo failed to score in the second half of last week’s game against Orlando, the offensive outburst came as a relief to coach Darris Kilgour. Kilgour also noted a much-improved defensive effort in the second half.
“We just wanted it to settle down,” Kilgour said. “(In the first half) we got caught running and we weren’t communicating, they were doing a good job of breaking us down. In the second half we settled down, didn’t chase and let them come to us.”
Buffalo’s forward and brawler Brandon Francis and Boston’s Paul Dawson started the fourth quarter off with a fight that got the HSBC Arena crowd on its feet. The rough-and-tumble start to the quarter continued when Mike Thompson was bowled into by Boston’s Brett Queener. The goaltender was shaken up but stayed in the game and picked up his fifth and most important win of the season.
“It was do or die,” Thompson said after the game. “We knew they were going to be coming in hard and we just had to match that intensity. I thought we did a good job of that.”
Thompson has come up big for the Bandits down the stretch, as starting goaltender Ken Montour has been unable to play after suffering a concussion earlier in the year.
“Mikey settled right into the game and I’m very happy to see it after all the struggles and everything at the beginning of the year,” Kilgour said. “I’m very happy for him and it’s huge for the team.”
Vyse picked up a hat trick of his own with a goal 3:04 into the fourth quarter, and the Bandit defense protected the lead despite a rash of penalties. Boston’s Gary Bining added three power play goals late in the fourth quarter, but Thompson the Bandit defense protected the lead and held on for the win.