The Buffalo Bandits (9-4) made a huge statement Friday night when they took down the Toronto Rock (10-5) by a score of 11-8 to win the season series between the two division rivals.
Friday’s game didn’t seem lopsided until the second half. The teams went into halftime tied at four, and Toronto jumped out to a 6-4 lead early in the third quarter, but the resilient Bandits exploded with seven straight goals and held on for the victory to move into a first place tie with Toronto in the East division.
John Tavares (2-4-6) had another tremendous night for Buffalo as the NLL’s all-time leading scorer netted two goals and added four more assists to his already impressive resume. Tracey Kelusky (2-3-5) and Chad Culp (2-3-5) also came up big in the contest as they both scored two goals and notched five points in the win.
Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson continued to improve his numbers as the veteran made 36 saves to improve to 9-1 on the season. Thompson also extended his hot streak against the Rock, as the netminder is now 4-0 in his career against Toronto.
Prior to the game, Toronto honored long-time goaltender Bob Watson in front of the Air Canada Centre crowd. The future Hall of Famer announced earlier in the year that he will retire at season’s end, so he was joined by his family, friends and teammates to celebrate his legendary career before the faceoff.
Toronto fed off the ceremonious moment early by jumping out to an early 2-0 lead with goals by Kasey Beirnes and Patrick Merrill. Buffalo rallied back with three consecutive goals from Kelusky, Brett Bucktooth and Tavares to grab a 3-2 lead before the start of the second quarter.
The Bandits continued to streak in the second period as Culp added on to Buffalo’s lead. Toronto countered back when Beirnes and Stephan LeBlanc scored to tie the game. The contest went to halftime with the teams knotted up at four.
Toronto started the second half with a bang as Aaron Pascas and Rob Marshall scored early in the third quarter to give the Rock a 6-4 lead. However, Buffalo was able to overcome the two-goal deficit again with five unanswered goals from Bucktooth, Kelusky, Tavares, Brenden Thenhaus and Culp to grab a 9-6 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Buffalo played very tight defensively in the fourth quarter, but the Bandits were still able to take a commanding lead with goals by Clancy and Mark Steenhuis. Toronto was able to get two quick goals by Beirnes and Garrett Billings towards the end of the game, but it was too little too late as Buffalo held on to win 11-8 at the Air Canada Centre.
It was a huge win for the black and orange, as the victory has pushed Buffalo up to a first place tie in the East division with Toronto. However, Buffalo will have to work hard to keep its spot in the standings. Despite taking two out of the three games against Toronto this season, the teams are still tied, while the Rochester Knighthawks are just a game-and-a-half back from surpassing Buffalo from the top spot.
The Bandits have little time to celebrate as they will get right back at it Saturday night to take on the third place Knighthawks (7-5) inside Blue Cross Arena. The interstate matchup is set for a 7:30 p.m. faceoff.