The Buffalo Bandits (8-3) clinched a berth in the 2011 NLL Playoffs as they defeated the Minnesota Swarm (5-6) 12-9 inside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN on Sunday afternoon.
Minnesota led the Bandits 2-1 after the first quarter, but it was the only time that the Swarm would hold the lead. The Bandits erupted in the second quarter with five goals, then scored four more in the fourth quarter to down Minnesota 12-9 in a game that was seen by a nationwide television audience on Versus.
Mark Steenhuis shined in Buffalo’s win as the transition player scored twice and added three helpers. He also reached a career milestone by recording his 300th career assist. Tracey Kelusky also came through on the big stage as the veteran scored a hat trick and notched an assist in the win. Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson made 39 saves to help Buffalo extend its winning streak to a season-high four games.
Jon Harasym got things started for the Bandits as the transition player caused a turnover at midfield and then scored a breakaway goal. Minnesota grabbed the lead late in the first quarter when Sean Pollock and Ryan Benesch scored within a span of a minute. Minnesota went into the second quarter with a 2-1 lead.
The Bandits rallied hard in the second quarter with four straight goals by Steenhuis, Tom Montour, and two from Kelusky. John Tavares added another score to give Buffalo a 6-4 lead going into halftime. Jamie Shewchuk and Callum Crawford were the only scorers for the Swarm in the second frame, but Crawford lit the lamp with just four seconds left in the quarter to give Minnesota some momentum going into halftime.
Chad Culp was the first to strike in the second half as he gave Buffalo a 7-4 lead early in the third quarter. Minnesota answered back when Shewchuk notched his second goal of the afternoon to put his team within two scores. Culp regained Buffalo’s three-goal lead when he beat the goaltender high glove side near the end of the quarter. Steenhuis assisted on Buffalo’s eighth goal for his 300th career assist, and the Bandits had an 8-5 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Swarm opened up the scoring in the fourth when Mat Giles scored on the power play. Tyler Hass added another goal shortly after to put the Swarm within one goal of tying the game, but Buffalo surged back with goals by Chris Corbeil and Brenden Thenhaus to put Buffalo up 10-7. Crawford put an end to the Bandits’ run as the forward put the Swarm back within striking distance. Steenhuis scored again with his second goal of the game and gave the Bandits more breathing room with an 11-8 lead late in the game. Benesch scored with 48.9 seconds left to put Minnesota within two, but Kelusky sealed the deal with his third goal of the game to give Buffalo a 12-9 lead in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
With the win, Buffalo moved closer to the top spot in the East division with an 8-3 record and is now just a half-game back of the first place Toronto Rock (9-3). Minnesota drops to a 5-6 record, which is good for third place in the West division. However, the Swarm can clinch a playoff spot if they can pull off one more win on the season.
The Bandits will look to make it five straight when they return to action next Saturday, April 2 when they welcome the Washington Stealth (6-6) to HSBC Arena. Face-off is set for 7:30 p.m.