By Jeff Baker - Bandits.com
Needing a win to keep pace in the playoff race, the Buffalo Bandits hit another speed bump on the road to the postseason with a 14-10 loss to the Georgia Swarm at Infinite Energy Arena in metro Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Lyle Thompson, the reigning NLL Most Valuable Player, scored five goals, Jesse King (1+4) and Miles Thompson (2+3) both had five points, and Mike Poulin made 43 saves as Georgia moved into a three-way tie with Buffalo and Rochester at 6-7 in the East Division standings.
Dhane Smith finished with a game-high seven points (2+5) for the Bandits, Shawn Evans managed three goals on 16 shots, Craig England netted a pair of goals, and Mark Steenhuis notched an assist after returning from injury for his first action in over two months.
The star of the Bandits’ 19-8 win in their first meeting with the Swarm, backup goalie Zach Higgins again got the starting nod but was unable to replicate the same magic against his former team.
While a six-goal second-quarter scoring run helped the Bandits to victory in round one, the defending NLL champs came out flying in the first half of the rematch to return the favor.
The Swarm jumped ahead 3-0 midway through the first quarter before the Bandits scored twice in the final five minutes to pull within a goal after 15 minutes.
Georgia’s special teams seized control of the game in the second frame. The Swarm scored three-straight power play goals in the first four minutes to go up 6-2 before trading goals and heading into halftime with a 9-5 lead.
Sensing the need for urgency, whatever Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said to motivate his team during the intermission seemed to work. Buffalo netted a pair quick goals in the first 3:15 of the third quarter, the second of the day for both Smith and Evans, to cut the margin to two.
Zach Herreweyers, promoted from Buffalo’s practice squad to the active roster this weekend, made the most of his Bandits debut by scoring a timely goal to pull the team within 9-8 with 6:11 left in the third.
Pressing for the equalizer, a rare mistake from Bandits defenseman Steve Priolo gave momentum back to the Swarm. After stripping Buffalo’s captain of the ball at mid floor, Lyle Thompson raced in alone on Higgins and buried the breakaway goal to regain a two-goal advantage for Georgia entering the fourth quarter.
Midway through the fourth, the Swarm’s Jordan Hall scored a highlight-reel between-the-legs goal with his back turned to the net to make it 12-8. But it turned out that Georgia had one more trick up its sleeve.
After Evans’ hat trick goal had Buffalo back within striking distance at 12-9 with six minutes on the clock, the Bandits appeared to be going on the power play over a minute later. Not so fast. The Swarm bench pointed out a uniform violation to the officials as Evans was wearing an unapproved brand of athletic tights, which resulted in an automatic illegal equipment penalty and wiped out the Bandits’ man advantage. Back at even strength, Lyle Thompson scored his fifth goal 22 seconds later to give Georgia more breathing room.
England scored with an extra attacker on the floor with 1:07 left to bring Buffalo within 13-10. But the Swarm sealed the game with an empty netter with 35 seconds remaining to earn the important divisional win.
With five games left on their regular season schedule, it would appear the Bandits need to finish at least 2-3 down the stretch to have a shot at making the playoffs. Taking into account the jam-packed East standings and its various tiebreaker scenarios, a winning record the rest of the way might be their only realistic way in.
Coming up empty in its back-to-back weekend after Friday’s loss to Saskatchewan, Buffalo will have to dig deep during a crucial two-game series with the first-place New England Black Wolves, starting on the road on Friday, March 23 before returning home on Saturday, March 31.