By Joe Ray - Bandits.com
MORNING SHOOTAROUND UPDATE:
While it took a few weeks longer than they had hoped, the Bandits finally have a home playoff game. With a completely healthy lineup for another week, Buffalo will take on a Rochester team that is refreshed after earning a first-round bye in the NLL playoffs.
The Bandits’ offense is peaking at an opportune time, as the team has recorded 31 goals over their last two contests. Buffalo will also need to make sure a defense that forced eight turnovers against the Rock continues to play active and aggressive.
Goaltending will also be a huge factor in the game, as Anthony Cosmo and Matt Vinc are expected to face off yet again for Buffalo and Rochester, respectively. Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley has faith that, as has been the case many times this season, Cosmo will be the team’s leader in key situations.
“It’s the key saves, the saves when your team needs it,” Cordingley said. “Maybe you went down 12-11 and they have a great opportunity, and your goalie makes a big save and you come down and score. Those are huge, so timing with the goalies as well as being big and being the last line of defense, it’s huge.”
In order for the Bandits to earn another home game in front of “Banditland”, however, they’ll have to do something they have not accomplished since February 2013: defeat the Knighthawks at Blue Cross Arena at least once, depending on tonight’s outcome. Bringing the intensity from the outset of tonight’s game is the key to getting ahead before the series shifts to Rochester on May 17.
“We’re here, and we can’t be satisfied that we’re just here,” Cordingley said.” The intent was to make sure we get back here, and make sure we get back here again.”
Buffalo Bandits vs. Rochester Knighthawks
NLL East Finals Game 1
Last 5 Games: Buffalo (1-4); Rochester (5-0)
Last Weekend: Buffalo def. Toronto 15-13 in East Semifinal; Rochester did not play
Buffalo started the season series with an 11-10 home victory back on Jan. 25. Since then, it’s been all Rochester as the Knighthawks won two home games by scores of 9-6 back on Feb. 8 and 8-4 on April 19. Most recently, Rochester topped the Bandits 16-14 at First Niagara Center on April 26.
Whether it could best be described as a monkey or a gorilla, the massive eight-game losing streak is over for the Bandits. In the NLL East Semifinal at Air Canada Centre last Saturday, Buffalo pulled out a gritty 15-13 victory over the Toronto Rock to advance to the East Division Finals, which start Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center against a familiar foe.
“Obviously it’s a rivalry that’s been going on for a while now in this league,” Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat said of the Rochester Knighthawks. “It goes way back to when Rochester first came into the league. Part of it is probably because of the proximity of the two teams, but I think the fact that we’ve played each other four times and tendencies are tendencies.
“It’s not a practice where you have to go over a whole pile of new stuff anymore because both teams know each other so well.”
Bandits forward Ryan Benesch tied the franchise record for most goals in a playoff game with seven in the victory, tying the record Mark Steenhuis set in 2008. After putting up 14 goals against Rochester the previous week, the Bandits’ offense is certainly heating up and they will need a stellar effort against Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc.
“I don’t think we have to revamp a whole lot, offensive guys are all about confidence and over the last few games, guys have some confidence,” Teat said. “You can tell when they’ve got confidence when they’re shooting or when they shoot and don’t have confidence they might pull it out.
“I think it’s all about confidence and the guys playing together and feeding off each other’s confidence, and if it builds from there, it’s gonna continue to grow.”
Although the team gave up 13 goals, the Bandits’ defense was much more successful against Toronto, aggressively keeping the Rock scorers at bay and igniting a transition game that had slowed down considerably in the season’s second half.
A contributing factor to that was the return of two injured defensive players to the lineup: Billy Dee Smith and Andrew Watt. Buffalo’s main defensive core, consisting of Smith and Watt plus Steve Priolo, Rory Smith and Derek Suddons, have only played eight games together all season, including the season’s first six games. Buffalo went 5-1 in that early-season stretch.
The Bandits had all five of those players active in last week’s postseason win and they are all expected to be in the lineup this week against Rochester. For the defensive unit, it is just a matter of getting acclimated to playing with each other once again and improving upon last week’s outing.
“I think we just have to build off last weekend,” Watt said. “It’s always tough coming back when guys have injuries and whatnot, getting back into the rhythm.
“It’s just a matter of trusting your D-partners and everyone else and communicating on the same page. Since we don’t have any more time to prepare, it’s a now-or-never type of thing. It’s the playoffs so we’re all healthy and looking forward to the challenge this weekend up ahead against Rochester.”
The Bandits’ lone win against Rochester nearly turned into a loss as an 11-5 lead with four minutes to play nearly evaporated in the 11-10 victory. Buffalo knows they have to excel in every phase to get the win this week.
“We realize we’ve got to be at our absolute best if we’re going to have a chance at beating these guys,” Teat said. “They’re the best team in the league and the defending champs for a reason. They play their best lacrosse when it counts. Like I said, we’re gonna have to be at our superior best this weekend.”
The Knighthawks drew a bye from the first round of the NLL playoffs, and they have been using the week to prepare for either the Bandits or the Rock. Rochester has a good idea of what they’ll need to do to contend for their third-straight NLL title now that they know they’ll face their Thruway rival in Buffalo.
“We had the extra week to heal up with some guys that were a little banged up,” Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen said. “But saying that, we’re anxious and … it’ll be a very tough series against Buffalo here. We had the opportunity to go watch them live and watch them play.
“There’s not too many surprises, not too many that we need to go over. We just need to make sure that we’re getting our compete level up right from the get-go because these guys capitalized on mistakes that we make. We have to make sure we eliminate them the best we can.”
In preparation for the start of their postseason, the Knighthawks watched last Saturday’s contest carefully to gauge what they would be up against this coming weekend.
“Buffalo likes to push the ball in transition and they’re very, very good at it,” Hasen said. “We need everyone to be better on the discipline side of things.
“Last week in Toronto, the Bandits’ power play kind of took over that game and gave them the cushion they needed. So we have to make sure we’re disciplined. We can’t do anything silly and if we can keep their power play off the floor for as long as we can, we’ll be better off.”
Having played their last two games against Buffalo, Rochester is well prepared for the intensity that this rivalry brings. With nine wins over their last 10 games, the two-time defending NLL champions are certainly acquainted with what they need to do to win at this time of year.
“Anytime you play Buffalo, especially in Buffalo, it’s a tough battle,” Hasen said. “When we were watching film leading up to the two games we had [to close the regular season], we saw a lot of things that we needed to be cognizant of to have an opportunity to beat them. We were lucky in those two games.”
Players to Watch
Buffalo – Jay Thorimbert
An unsung hero of the Toronto victory, Thorimbert scooped up a season-high 22 loose balls and won 27 of 32 faceoffs while also adding an assist. Thorimbert’s work to gain possession for the Bandits went a long way in helping the offense against the Rock and the Bandits’ offense will need another great effort against Rochester.
Rochester – Cody Jamieson
With a 10-point effort in Rochester’s regular season finale against Buffalo, Jamieson moved to 108 points on the season (36+72) to take home the NLL scoring title. With 31 points in six playoff games, he figures to once again be an integral part of Rochester’s playoff run.