5/8/2019 10:45:00 AM / John Gurtler
In playoff competition, it's all between the pipes. Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc (and Jordan Durston) proved that last Saturday night in the Bandits’ 13-6 win over the New England Black Wolves in Round 1 of the 2019 NLL Playoffs.
Durston's golden right-shoulder save stopped a point-blank breakaway shot by New England’s Ryan Fournier, and Vinc, 20-10 in career postseason action, stopped 46 of 52 shots in 58 minutes played.
Indeed, the six-time Goaltender of the Year was awarded the team's Player of the Game belt for his outstanding performance.
"The bigger the game, the bigger [Vinc] plays. He knows what to expect to get himself ready for these types of games. That’s the reason we brought him in here. He's been everything we thought and more," Bandits head coach Rich Kilgour said.
The Bandits live to fight another day in this nerve-wracking single-elimination playoff format. And we’ll will be right back in Banditland this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. against the Toronto Rock. Tickets are on sale now.
"That’s the best. We have the best fans in the world. Coming home every night knowing we are going to be in Banditland, it's a big boost for us," transition player Nick Weiss said.
After a quick retreat to enjoy the thrill of victory, mend wounds and heal bruises, the Bandits will jump right back to work to prepare for the East Division crown, just like they have all season long.
"We try and get it across to them the playoffs are a whole different beast. Anything can happen, you have to be mentally ready. That’s one thing JT [John Tavares] and myself did well all year. You gotta play like it's Game 7 or the championship game all the time. So when those games do come, that's just the way you play.
"Just look at it as the 20th game of the year. We've been working and building and getting better every game. They have to go out and play as hard and smart as they can, and we will live with the consequences."
The underlying success of this team is their camaraderie and “band of brothers” attitude amongst each other, which supports the gifted talent.
"Right at the start of training camp, we knew we had something special. This year, we have all the confidence in the world," Weiss, who is currently on a four-game scoring streak (3+5), said. "Everyone has taken everyone under their wing. Big group, big team effort team."
During that shortened training camp, the Bandits had nine new faces slated for the active roster, including Vinc, and that took some time to get everyone on the same page through trial and error, suggestions and plenty of communicating.
"We did a great job in the offseason, bringing in a couple key pieces, the main one being Matt Vinc, and we know if we mess up, we still have him behind us to pick us up every time," he said.
The Bandits transition game has elevated to levels where you have come to expect goals and points. Just look at the last game of the regular season, where six of the 10 different players scoring were from transition. We saw more of the same last Saturday as nine points came from transition.
"The young guys have been awesome, especially Ian MacKay and Matt Gilray. They are young, fast and energetic and they've been putting the ball in the net,” Weiss said. “Anytime you get transition goals, it’s a huge boost for the team. It's been helping all game.”
The two teams are playing exceptionally well and thrive when the playing roster gets involved on both ends of the floor. Toronto had eight different players help in scoring, five with two or more goals, in their solid 16-14 win over Georgia on Monday in the other East Division semi-final.
Like the Bandits, Toronto finished the regular season on a two-game winning streak and finished in second place at 12-6.
Toronto was the only team this season to beat the Bandits twice, which included a 17-12 win on Dec 21 and a 12-11 overtime decision April 5. True, the Rock have their guns in Tom Schreiber (29+65 for 94 points), Rob Hellyer (36+50) and Adam Jones (25+31), but it's the full complement of players that make their team so deadly when playing in unison.
Remember when Casey Beirnes was such a thorn in the Bandits’ side, scoring timely goals out of the blue? Figure four-fold now with Kieran McArdle, Challen Rogers, Dan Lintner and Brandon Slade. Goaltender Nick Rose, 12-6 on the regular season, is strong against the Bandits, posting an .823 save percentage in this year's regular season series.
Both teams score in bunches, so expect scoring runs of four, five, six on Saturday. And both can claw back at any given moment. The Bandits’ 8-6 win over the Rock on March 23 proved to be a resilient one, and one of the many highlights for the club this season. Down 4-0 after the first quarter, the Bandits went on a six-goal run, holding Toronto scoreless for 32 minutes, and outscoring the Rock 8-2 when it was all said and done.
Two fine clubs facing each other Saturday night for the crown of the East.
"You are never going to play perfect. We tell the guys that all the time. We are not expecting a perfect game; we want them to strive for perfection, but don't get down when it doesn't happen. All you can do is jump the hurdle in front of you," Kilgour said.
"A bad night means no tomorrow."
Convince me otherwise.
Join us early for the NLL Live pregame show, starting a 7 p.m. on B/R Live. We will have updates on the teams, quick catch-up's with players, and a follow-through of the warmups.
Steve Bermel, Dave Buchanan and Randy Mearns will join me from the floor and booth. The game is set for a 7:30 start.
Radio coverage, too, will go with our standard pregame show at 7 featuring Bandits head coach John Tavares and defenseman Jon Harnett. Tune in to WGR Sports Radio 550 here in Buffalo and WGWE 105.9 FM in Salamanca.