The Buffalo Bandits (11-6) will move on to the NLL Eastern Division Finals, after dropping the Boston Blazers (8-9) by a score of 11-10 in the divisional semifinal round of the NLL playoffs on Saturday night.
Buffalo had control for most of the game, as they never trailed the Blazers at any point of the night. However, the Bandits got a little too comfortable with their lead late in the fourth quarter. Boston climbed back from the four-goal deficit, and the Blazers tied the game at 13:13 with a goal from Kevin Buchanan.
However, Buffalo would not get down after Boston’s rally and John Tavares scored with just 40 seconds left in the game to help Buffalo advance to the second round of the playoffs.
Tavares (3-4-7) finished the night with three goals and seven points, while Roger Vyse (4-2-6) also had a huge night with four goals and two assists in the victory.
Goaltender Mike Thompson was tremendous between the pipes, especially when the Bandits needed him most. The netminder shut the door on 42 of Boston’s 52 shots, including a last-second shot that would have tied the game at the end of the fourth quarter. Thompson also tied a franchise record with four career playoff wins.
“I thought the defense was unbelievable tonight; unbelievable,” said Bandits Head Coach Darris Kilgour. “I thought that was the easiest game Mikey (Thompson) had in a month and a half. All the credit goes to the defense. Everybody was on the same page tonight and there wasn’t one guy that stood out, but everyone was at a high level tonight.”
The first quarter began with a huge save by Thompson, as he stopped a 2-on-0 to keep Boston off the scoreboard early. Buffalo fed off of the momentum, responding with consecutive goals from Mark Steenhuis and Vyse. The Bandits got into penalty trouble toward the end of the first quarter, which resulted in a power play goal by Jamie Rooney. Despite being out-shot 11-9, the Bandits ended the quarter with a 2-1 lead.
Boston came out strong in the second quarter, as the Blazers peppered Thompson with 15 shots, but only Nick Cotter, Casey Powell and Rooney would beat Thompson. Buffalo was able to add on to their lead with goals by Tavares, Tracey Kelusky, Chad Culp and two from Vyse to hold a 7-4 lead going into halftime.
The Blazers struck first in the second half when Powell scored a power play goal early in the third quarter. The Bandits answered back with back-to-back goals from Vyse and Steenhuis to extend Buffalo’s lead to four goals before the start of the final quarter.
Powell opened the scoring in the fourth when he notched a power play goal to put Boston within three goals. The Bandits countered back with a power play goal of their own, as Tavares scored to maintain Buffalo’s four-goal lead.
Despite the commanding 10-6 lead, the Blazers rallied late with four unanswered goals from Dan Dawson (2), Powell and Buchanan. However, the Bandits were able to pull through thanks to a goal in the final minute from Tavares, the NLL’s all-time leading playoff scorer. Buffalo was then able to hold on to defeat the Blazers by a score of 11-10 in the first round of the NLL playoffs.
“I think [the difference from the last two weeks] was just our effort tonight. We came out and executed our gameplan,” Vyse said. “We wanted to get after them, and we wanted to get the loose balls as much as we could to keep the ball down in their end to keep the pressure off Mikey. It worked out in the end.”
Now that the Bandits have officially eliminated the Blazers, they will move on to the Eastern Division Championship. Buffalo will face either the Rochester Knighthawks (10-6) or the Toronto Rock (10-6), as the two division rivals are set to battle in another semifinal match-up on Sunday. The first-round contest is set for a 3:30 p.m. faceoff with only one team moving on to the next round.
The Bandits will return to HSBC Arena on Saturday, May 7 for their second round playoff matchup. The game is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. faceoff.