5/10/2019 9:00:00 AM / Nick Konotopskyj
Head coach John Tavares
“It’s great being in the East Finals after missing the playoffs the last two years. We’re happy to be here, but we’re not content. It’s great to have a home playoff game.
“Toronto definitely gave us the most trouble in the regular season with two of our four losses coming to them so we’re looking for a tight game tonight and hopefully we come out on top.
“…They’re actually really similar to us. They have good goaltending, good defense, they can transition and they have a good five on five offense.
“I think it’s going to come down to who makes the least number of mistakes. It might come down to transition or special teams, but whatever it does, we just need to make sure we do better than they do.”
Forward Dhane Smith
“We’re really excited for tonight. We definitely earned being able to play at home and it’s going to be a battle. They beat us two times and we only beat them once so we owe them one. It’s the playoffs and anything can happen in one game.
“…They’re a great team all the way around. They can put the ball in the net, their defense is solid, and their goaltending has been great all year. We have to find their weak spots and find a way to grab loose balls.
“If we can score on the power play and stop them shorthanded, then I think we have a great chance. We’re looking forward to getting over 16,000 screaming fans cheering us on because they’ve been our seventh man all year long.”
After taking care of the New England Black Wolves for the third time this season, the Bandits will now get set for another “win or go home” matchup with the Toronto Rock in the East Division Final. Opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at KeyBank Center as the winner will advance to the NLL Finals.
Toronto beat the Georgia Swarm 16-14 on Monday while the Bandits were the only home team to win in the quarterfinal round, knocking off the Black Wolves 13-6.
The Bandits will have extra motivation in this game as they have lost two out of three meetings with the Rock this season. The latest matchup was a 12-11 overtime win for the Rock in Toronto on April 5. Buffalo will look to get its revenge against the only team in the NLL to beat them more than once this year.
Fans at the game can enjoy a pregame happy hour in the Labatt Blue Zone featuring $5 domestic drafts starting at 6 p.m.
With a win, the Bandits will advance to the NLL Finals for the first time since 2016. Buffalo is looking for its fifth title in franchise history and first since 2008 The Bandits are 10-2 this season when they score first. They are also a perfect 12-0 when they take a lead going into the fourth quarter.
This is the sixth playoff meeting between Toronto and Buffalo. The Bandits are 2-3 all-time.
One key factor going into this game will be goaltending. Buffalo’s Matt Vinc and Toronto’s Nick Rose have shown all year that they are two of the best goalies in the league. In the regular season, Vinc was first in the league in wins (14), first in goals allowed average (10.02), second in save percentage (.803) ahd he was third in saves (705). Rose meanwhile was second in wins (12) and fourth in saves (675).
On the offensive end, both teams feature talented players throughout the lineup who can score. The Bandits are led by Dhane Smith, who was fifth in the league in points in the regular season with 102. Shawn Evans has been a steady force for Buffalo all year long as well as he was eighth in the league in points with 94. Corey Small, who was acquired this offseason from Vancouver, had a great regular season with 74 points and a league-leading 14 power-play goals.
The depth of this Bandits team is what makes them so lethal offensively as players like Thomas Hoggarth and Chase Fraser, had career seasons because of the added attention teams must make toward the top three Bandits goal scorers. Josh Byrne was also on pace to best his rookie year, but a midseason injury caused him to miss nine games.
Jordan Durston is another Bandit who has come up huge in key situations all season for Buffalo. Also, Buffalo has two major rookie contributors in Chris Cloutier and Ian MacKay, who were fourth and sixth respectively in points amongst all rookie players in the NLL.
Like with Buffalo, there is no mistake as to who leads the Rock offensively. Toronto’s offense runs through third-year pro Tom Schreiber, who was seventh in the NLL in points this season. His sidekick is Rob Hellyer, who was the team’s leading goal scorer. The Rock don’t have any other stars that stand out, but it’s a deep lineup that has given teams fits all year long. That was the case on Monday when Toronto scored 16 goals on the road against a Georgia team who was second in the league (behind the Bandits) in goal differential.
This East Division final also features arguably two of the best defensemen in the league. All season long, both Buffalo’s Steve Priolo and Toronto’s Challen Rogers have shown the ability to not just lead their teams on the defensive end, but be major contributors on the offensive end.
Rogers leads the league in scoring for defensemen with 31 points (16+15) while Priolo was second with 26 points (11+15). Priolo also was third in the league for defensemen in shooting percentage (.379).
Including last week’s East Division Semifinals, the Bandits are now 8-2 at home this season while the Rock are 5-5 on the road. The winner of Saturday’s game will face the winner of the Colorado Mammoth and Calgary Roughnecks in the NLL Finals. Colorado and Calgary will play in the West Division Final at 9 p.m. on Friday night at Scotiabank Saddledome. UPDATE: The Roughnecks defeated Colorado 8-4 to advance.