5/4/2019 11:00:00 PM / Nick Konotopskyj
For the first time in three years, the Bandits have earned a playoff victory. In a game that was defined by physical play and trips to the penalty box, Buffalo earned a hard fought 13-6 victory over the New England Black Wolves in the East Division Semifinal on Saturday at KeyBank Center.
Buffalo will now move on the East Division Final on Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at home against the winner of Monday’s match between the Georgia Swarm and the Toronto Rock. Tickets for the East Division Final are on sale now.
Goalie Matt Vinc was the star of the game for the Bandits as he allowed only six goals for the second straight game against New England. Vinc stopped 47 out of 53 shots and has been everything the Bandits could have asked for after acquiring the former Knighthawk this offseason.
“Every game you go in with the same mentality and the preparation is the same,” Vinc said. “As you get older, you’re able to adapt to some of those key moments in the game. We have a young group and it’s a lot of fun to be around. It’s contagious and we’re having fun and it’s such a great group….. That’s a great team win and you need those types of wins especially in the postseason.”
On offense, the Bandits had a balanced attack that was led by Dhane Smith with seven points (2+5) while Corey Small (2+2, Shawn Evans (3+1) and Chris Cloutier (1+3) each recorded four points. New England’s Callum Crawford led the Black Wolves with six points (4+2).
“We found a way to win and that’s what good teams do,” said head coach John Tavares. “We’re very deep so even though we didn’t play our best game, we found a way to win. Whenever your goalie is playing well, it gives everyone confidence and allows them to take risks out there. Just finding ways to win will give us confidence throughout the playoffs because regardless of the situation, we know we’re never out of it.”
It was a perfect start for the Bandits as they got three goals within the first 2:31 of the game. Rookie Ian MacKay scored his first career playoff goal and then Smith scored the second goal right after that, followed by Shawn Evans.
“As a goalie, you breathe a side of relief that we won’t be gripping our sticks too tight,” said Matt Vinc. “I think that start allowed our defense to settle in. They have some real dangerous shooters and they can put up big numbers, so anytime you can score three goals early, it gets the fans going and creates a great environment.”
Crawford got the Black Wolves on the board when he scored a power play goal more than halfway through the first quarter. The biggest play of the quarter came right after that when the Bandits tried pulling a sneak “6-on-5” by sending Vinc to the bench, but when they turned the ball over, New England had an empty net the other way.
Several Bandits players rushed to the net to somehow block the ball from going in and Jordan Durston was the one who kept the ball out of the net. Just a minute after that sequence, Chase Fraser capitalized on a open look to make it 4-1 Bandits going into the second quarter.
The Black Wolves opened up the second quarter by scoring the first two goals to make it 4-3 Bandits with under 10 minutes left in the half. Chris Cloutier stopped the run with his first goal of the game. The Bandits made it a 3-0 scoring run when they got power play goals from Smith and Evans to make it 7-3 Bandits at halftime. Overall, 20 penalties were called in the game.
Vinc stopped 30 of 33 shots in the first half for the Bandits as he continued his dominance this season over the Black Wolves.
“We’ve been getting off to good starts, but at the same time it’s a game of runs so we were prepared for them to come back,” Steve Priolo said. “It’s all about checking your emotions and making sure you’re getting the job done.”
Small started the second half with his first goal of the game on the powerplay to make it 8-3 Buffalo. New England’s Reilly O’Connor scored the next goal of the game to make it a four goal Bandits lead.
Steve Priolo then added a shorthanded goal for Buffalo with a breakaway goal and the Bandits were in control heading into the fourth quarter.
Evans and Small scored again in the fourth quarter and the Bandits were able to push their lead to 11-6. Crawford scored four of New England’s six goals in the game, but his teammates weren’t able to provide much scoring after that.
“I thought Shawn Evans scored some big goals for us,” Tavares said. “Our power play was very flat so if there’s one thing we really need to improve on, it’s our power play.”
Nick Weiss added an empty net goal with just over four minutes remaining to make it 12-6 Bandits. New England left the net open since they were behind by six goals and Priolo added another empty net goal to make it 13-6 Buffalo.
The Bandits will play either the second seed (Georgia Swarm) or third seed (Toronto Rock) in the East Finals. Georgia and Toronto play on Monday night in Georgia to decide who comes to Buffalo next Saturday.
The Bandits are now one win away from a trip to the NLL Finals. The last time they made it to the championship round was in 2016 and the last time Buffalo won it all was in 2008.