The Buffalo Bandits (7-3) made a strong case for themselves as the team to beat in the East, defeating the Boston Blazers (6-5) by a 12-10 score at HSBC Arena on Saturday night.
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It was a back and forth battle between the two division rivals, but John Tavares’ fourth goal of the game and Chris Corbeil’s empty netter were the difference in helping Buffalo win in front of 16,347 fans.
“I told the guys before the game that we haven’t had a three-game winning streak in two years, so it feels good to know that whatever happens, we can overcome it,” said Bandits Head Coach Darris Kilgour. “I think these guys are starting to have a lot of confidence in each other and confidence can be a dangerous thing once you have it.”
Tavares was his typical self as the future hall-of-famer scored four goals and added two helpers in the Bandits’ victory. Mark Steenhuis also had a tremendous game as the All-Star scored twice and dished out five assists. Mike Thompson stood tall in the Bandits’ net, capping off of what was already a solid stretch for the netminder. After making 83 saves and just allowing 16 goals in back-to-back games last weekend, Thompson put on another impressive performance with 40 saves to improve his record to 7-1 on the season.
The Blazers drew first blood when forward Ryan Powell scored to give Boston an early 1-0 lead. Buffalo countered back with two straight goals from Tracey Kelusky and Roger Vyse to move in front by one. The Blazers roared back to grab a 4-2 lead before the start of the second quarter when Casey Powell scored twice and Jamie Rooney added another.
Buffalo opened the scoring in the second quarter when Vyse netted his second goal of the game with a long distance shot. However, the Blazers got a power play goal from Rooney to extend their lead by two. The momentum would then shift to Buffalo’s favor as the black and orange came back with two goals from Tavares and a short-handed score by Steenhuis to grab a 6-5 lead.
Buffalo’s three-goal rally forced Blazers coach Matt Sawyer to pull goaltender Anthony Cosmo in favor of Nick Rose. Boston responded to the goaltender change, as Ryan Powell tied the game midway through the second quarter. But the Bandits kept rolling as Steenhuis regained the lead for Buffalo with his second tally of the game. Buffalo would go into halftime with a 7-6 lead over Boston.
Boston took control at the start of the third quarter with goals by Josh Sanderson and Rooney. Brett Bucktooth was the first Bandit to light the lamp in the second half when he tied the game at the halfway mark of the third quarter. Tavares followed up with his third goal of the game to put Buffalo back in the lead 9-8. However, Dan Dawson evened it up when he scored late in the third to send the contest into the fourth quarter tied at nine.
At the start of the fourth, Brenden Thenhaus walked in and beat the Boston goaltender to put Buffalo ahead 10-9, until Sanderson knotted it up late in the quarter. Buffalo responded back on its next possession as Tavares stormed to the net and put it behind the Blazers’ goaltender to grab the 11-10 lead with just 2:12 left in the game. Boston had a chance to score late, but was unable to convert and Corbeil sealed the deal with an empty net goal to make it 12-10.
“It was a great pass and hard enough where I can get off the inside lane,” Tavares said about the game-winning goal. “I was actually tripping on the play, and I saw the goalie falling with me, so I put the ball in short-side, so I can stay out of the crease.”
The win moves Buffalo just 1.5 games back of Toronto (9-2) for first place in the East Division. The Bandits also separated themselves by a game and a half from the Blazers to take sole control of second place. Boston is now three games back of the first place Rock.
The Bandits will have next week off, but will go back to work after the break in Minnesota when they square off against the Swarm. The game is scheduled for Sunday, March 27 at 2:00 p.m. inside the Xcel Energy Center.