By Chris Ryndak - Bandits.com
Buffalo Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour liked what he saw from his team Saturday night, a welcome change from much of this season.
Following a losing effort last weekend against Toronto that the coach described as “frustrating,” the Bandits (5-8) made a statement against the East Division-leading Philadelphia Wings (7-6) on Saturday. Buffalo scored a 17-7 victory at First Niagara Center, the fewest goals they have allowed all season.
The win moved Buffalo ahead of Rochester for third place in the East and dropped Philadelphia behind Toronto for first place.
“This is the team we thought we had. I don’t want to talk about frustration at all, I don’t want to talk about how this really emphasizes how bad we really we played in those other games because tonight, the boys put it together,” Kilgour said.
The good feelings did come with some words of caution, however. The Bandits strung together back-to-back victories over Toronto and Minnesota on March 16 and 17 to end a franchise-record six-game losing streak only to be pummeled by Calgary a week later.
Seeing his team make progress and then take a few steps back in terms of confidence and intelligent playmaking has Kilgour hesitant in believing that the team has finally figured things out.
“But at the same time, we thought we turned the corner two or three times,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens next week, but I’m not going to take anything away from anybody tonight. They all played really, really well.”
With the win, the Bandits improved to 42-2 (.955) in regular season games when they allow under 10 goals to the opposition during Kilgour's tenure as head coach.
The Bandits piled on the Wings early in the game but things could have gone much differently. Transition player Tom Montour took an illegal body checking major 1:33 into the game and defenseman Billy Dee Smith joined him in the box less than a minute later on a roughing call.
The Wings went ahead 1-0 on a power play goal from Brodie Merrill and it could have sent Buffalo into another penalty-killing tailspin. Last week, Toronto went 7-for-13 on the power play against a very undisciplined Bandits team. Buffalo held Philadelphia's power play to two goals on eight opportunities.
“We still took a couple bad penalties, but we didn’t take a bunch of them. We played really smart on offense, controlled the game," Kilgour said. "And on defense, we were a lot smarter in how we attacked them and how we controlled where the ball went. That’s what we expected all year long and hopefully we can continue to do what we did tonight.”
On that same penalty kill, starting at the 3:20 mark of the first quarter, Buffalo stormed back and scored five straight goals in 3:12. On that run, forward Luke Wiles jumpstarted the team with a shorthanded effort and ended the run with a hat trick.
“You’re going to have adversity in games and what our problem is that we have adversity and then we take our adversity to the next level,” Wiles said. "We really keep taking penalties and we keep turning the ball over and tonight we didn’t do that. We would make a mistake but we’d make up for it in different ways. I can’t be happier with that win and it feels great to do it at home.”
Defenseman Ian Llord registered his first of the season and forward Mat Giles added his first of two of the evening.
Giles finished with four goals, his most productive goal-scoring outing since joining the Bandits in the summer via trade.
He reached the 500-career point milestone on his fourth goal. On the play midway through the third quarter, he got drilled by Max Seibald at the top of the crease as he shot it, but the ball found its way into the back of the net.
“Like I said on the floor, I think it just means you’ve been playing a long time,” the 14-year veteran said. “…Sometimes you just get lucky, right? You’re just throwing them on the net and that fourth one was obviously one of those.”
Forward John Tavares came alive in the second quarter for Buffalo, putting up a hat trick with two of those goals coming in the final 2:54 of the half. He finished with four goals and four assists. Transition player Mark Steenhuis had three goals and three assists as well.
Forward Kevin Buchanan and transition player Jeremy Thompson were the other Buffalo goal scorers.
The Wings' Dan Dawson broke the NLL single-season assist record in the second quarter when he was credited with the helper on Brodie Merrill’s second goal of the game. The assist, Dawson’s second of three on the evening, put him up to 75 on the season.
Merrill had three goals and an assist and Seibald and Drew Westervelt each scored twice. Starting goaltender Brandon Miller and backup Steve Fryer struggled between the pipes for Philadelphia. Both were chased from the net twice. Miller finished with 12 goals against on 28 shots and Fryer stopped 12 of 17.
Anthony Cosmo was stellar in goal for the Bandits. He stopped 46 of 53 shots including some highlight reel saves. It was the first game Cosmo completed in four starts since being traded to Buffalo on Feb. 17. He’s split time with Mike Thompson since the acquisition.
“We played defense in front of him. That’s the first good effort we had in front of Anthony all year and that’s exactly what we expected to get out of him,” Kilgour said. “I really have confidence in both goalies as long as we play defense in front of them. I really believe that we have two of the best goalies in the league.”
Cosmo stoned Merrill on three separate occasions late in the second quarter and went post-to-post to deny Westervelt with 2:36 left in the third quarter. Cosmo thought that confidence in both him and among his defense was a key component to the win.
“Two games ago, that’s in," he said of the save on Westervelt. "So it’s one of those things as a goaltender you’re confident and when you’re confident, you get those lucky bounces. And I got one there. ”
The Bandits next travel to Edmonton for a game that will keep the East Coast up late on April 14. Face off from Rexall Place is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST.