|By Kevin Snow - Bandits.com
Buffalo Bandits (8-6) at Minnesota Swarm (3-12)
Last 5 Games: Buffalo (1-4); Minnesota (1-4)
This is the third and final meeting of the season between the Swarm and Bandits, with the home team coming out on top in each of the first two. Minnesota defeated Buffalo 10-9 in overtime at home on March 23. The Bandits’ win was a 12-9 decision at First Niagara Center on March 8.
What’s at Stake
The Bandits have already clinched a playoff spot. A Buffalo win or Toronto loss (vs. Philadelphia on Saturday) would guarantee a home playoff game for the Bandits, which likely will be played on Sat., May 3 at First Niagara Center. Minnesota can be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or a Toronto win.
The Bandits have now lost four straight, following last Saturday’s 16-13 home loss to Calgary. Buffalo jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the game’s first seven minutes, but they were outscored 7-1 in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo’s losing streak comes on the heels of an 8-2 start in which they allowed 10.1 goals per game. During the four-game skid, the Bandits have allowed 13 goals per game. The offense has also taken a hit during the streak, as they’ve averaged just 8.75 goals per game – compared to 11.9 during the first 10.
Assistant coach Rich Kilgour thinks the team’s hot start could be a contributing factor in the current slide.
“We’re just not finishing at this point. We got to 8-2, and you work so hard just to get there. Then you get a little full of yourself I guess, and think that you don’t have to do the little things anymore. We’ve gotten away from doing the little things,” Kilgour said. “We have to get back to being a disciplined team. We’ve been spending a little bit too much time in the box lately.
“We also have to shut down the other team’s transition. Minnesota will be a great test of that because they get up and down the floor really well. We have to get back to shutting down transition and sticking to more five-on-five play, which seems to be one of our strengths.”
The playoff-bound Bandits are now trying to lock down a postseason home date with a win in Minnesota. But with the Swarm playing for their playoff lives, it’ll be imperative for the Bandits to match their desperation level.
“We’ve gotta come to the game expecting a battle. We can’t be complacent and get full of ourselves,” Ryan Benesch, Buffalo’s leading scorer with 58 points (18+40) through 14 games, said. “We went on a good little winning streak, and I think we did get a little too high. We thought we were a little too good and that no teams were going to be able to beat us. It’s just a matter of getting back to basics and sticking to the game plan the coaches have created for us.”
Don’t be fooled by the Swarm’s 3-12 record and the fact they lost a pair of games to Rochester last weekend.
The first game was a 15-14 overtime heartbreaker in which they actually had a three-goal lead with four minutes to play in regulation. The next night in Rochester, the Swarm fell behind 7-2 in the second quarter, but they finished the night on a 4-1 run over the final 20 minutes against the first-place Knighthawks.
Playing an elimination game in front of their home fans should be motivation enough for Minnesota.
“It’s nothing new to us. It’s been do-or-die games for the last five or six weeks,” Swarm defenseman Jeff Gilbert said. “At the end of the day we’ve just got to find a way to close out games. We’re in games, we’re there, and they’re always tight.
“But it just seems to be a short stretch where we either lose focus or a bounce just doesn’t go our way. That’s the difference between first place and last place, where we’re sitting right now. It’s about being able to close those games out and win it when you need to.”
Players to Watch
Joe Resetarits: After starting the season by scoring in just two of first five games as a Bandit, the Buffalo native has now found the back of the net in eight straight, giving him 19 on the season. With four games left to play, the 24-year-old forward has already posted career highs in both goals (19) and points (33).
Callum Crawford: The 29-year-old from Ottawa, Ont., leads Minnesota with 71 points (24+47) in 15 games, good for ninth overall in the league. He’s also tied for the league-lead with five shorthanded goals. Crawford is coming off a 13-point weekend against Rochester, including a season-high nine points (3+6) in their overtime loss on April 4.