The Buffalo Bandits (10-4) were able to claim the top spot in the East Division by defeating the Rochester Knighthawks (7-6) by a score of 9-8 inside Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night in downtown Rochester.
Buffalo came into Saturday’s game with a ton of momentum after downing the 10-5 Toronto Rock by an 11-8 margin the previous night at the Air Canada Centre. The back-to-back victories elevated Buffalo to first place in the East and also guarantees that the team will finish the regular season no lower than second place.
Rochester jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first quarter, but Buffalo rallied back to even the game at six going into halftime. After a low scoring second half, both teams found themselves tied 8-8 late in the fourth quarter until Mark Steenhuis dove across Rochester’s crease and tucked the ball past Matt Vinc in the final minute of the game. Buffalo was then able to run out the clock and complete the weekend sweep.
Tracey Kelusky (2-3-5) picked up where he left off in Toronto, as the veteran notched his second straight five-point night with two goals and three helpers in the victory. Tavares (3-1-4) also flourished in the back-to-back weekend. He scored a hat trick and added an assist in Rochester one night after posting a six-point night at the Air Canada Centre.
Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson had another enormous game between the pipes. After making 36 saves the previous night in Toronto, Thompson stood tall in the Buffalo net again with 41 saves to improve his NLL-best record to 10-1.
The Knighthawks were the first to strike when former Bandit Mike Accursi gave Rochester an early 1-0 lead. Buffalo responded back with two quick goals by Kelusky and Chad Culp within a seven-second span. Rochester evened up the score when Craig Point beat Thompson stick side midway through the first quarter. The Knighthawks took the lead just over a minute later when Shawn Evans scored a short-handed goal. Rochester would get two more goals from Shawn Williams and Evans to take a 5-2 lead before the end of the first quarter.
Buffalo’s Kyle Clancy was the first to score in the second quarter, but Cory Vitarelli countered with a breakaway goal. Tavares then inched the Bandits closer with his first goal of the night. Buffalo almost got another one from Culp, but the video review showed a crease violation, so the goal was waved off. However, Buffalo kept pushing and got two straight goals from Tavares and Tom Montour to tie the game at six heading into halftime.
It was a quiet third quarter as both teams focused on defense to start the second half. However, Rochester ran into penalty trouble at the end of the third, and the Bandits took advantage as Kelusky scored with just one second remaining to give Buffalo a 7-6 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Buffalo fed off Kelusky’s late goal as Tavares netted a goal early in the fourth quarter to finish the hat trick and move the Bandits ahead by two. The Knighthawks awoke after Buffalo’s surge with two straight goals from Williams and Cody Jamieson to tie the game at eight goals apiece.
Thompson stood on his head in the final quarter as he made two huge stops, including a two-on-one break to keep the game tied late. The Bandits responded after Thompson’s huge saves when Steenhuis scored with just 52 seconds left to put Buffalo ahead by one. The Bandits were then able to hold on to win 9-8 inside Blue Cross Arena.
Saturday’s game was Rochester’s first loss since falling to the Bandits 11-8 at HSBC Arena back on March 5. Despite the loss, the Knighthawks remain in third place in the East Division with a 7-6 record. Rochester will get a chance to redeem themselves on Sunday when they travel to Philadelphia and take on the 5-9 Wings.
The Bandits return to action next Saturday when they host the Boston Blazers (7-8) at HSBC Arena. Prior to the game, Buffalo will honor long-time captain Rich Kilgour by retiring and hanging up his #16 in the Arena’s rafters. The ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m.