5/18/2019 11:00:00 PM / Nick Konotopskyj
Goals were hard to come by for most of Saturday’s Game 1 of the NLL Finals. It was 2-2 at the half, but the Calgary Roughnecks used a few second half runs to pull away from the Bandits and earn a 10-7 win at KeyBank Center. The Bandits now must win at Calgary on Saturday, May 25 to force a Game 3 back in Buffalo.
Dane Dobbie continued his strong play for the Roughnecks with six points (3+3) while Rhys Duch had four points as well for Calgary (2+2). Shawn Evans was the high point man for the Bandits with five (1+4), while Josh Byrne had four points (2+2) and Corey Small had three (2+1).
“I thought we played hard, but we just didn’t shoot the ball well and that’s why we didn’t score many goals,” head coach John Tavares said.
Bandits goalie Matt Vinc was stellar in net once again for the Bandits by stopping 33 of 42 shots, but it wasn’t enough in the end. Calgary’s Christian Del Bianco stopped 48 of 55 shots and Buffalo had a hard time finding the back of the net.
“They have a lot of athletes and put pressure on our offensive players. They took away our time and space which makes things difficult on us,” Tavares said. “I didn’t think they killed us in transition, but they did have a couple opportunities. This was a five-on-five lacrosse game and they beat us five-on-five today.”
It was a first quarter that was dominated by both defenses. Quality chances were hard to come by as defenders were constantly blocking shots and forcing shots from far out.
Duch scored the first goal of the game nearly nine minutes in to put the Roughnecks up 1-0. Small scored Buffalo’s only goal of the quarter with 1:23 left and the score was 1-1 after one quarter.
The Roughnecks had a power play opportunity early in the second, but the Bandits penalty kill was able to stop them from scoring. The game remained 1-1 until over halfway through the quarter, when Dhane Smith scored off a pass from Shawn Evans to give the Bandits their first lead of the game.
However, the Roughnecks came right back and got another goal from Duch to make it 2-2 going into halftime.
“I think we got away from our game plan a little bit,” Byrne said. “We were clogging the middle the entire time and there just wasn’t enough spacing between us. The good thing though is those are fixable things and we’re going to take care of that.”
The Bandits were able to regain the lead just a few minutes into the third quarter as Shawn Evans scored his first goal of the game to make it 3-2. Calgary’s Dan MacRae came right back to tie it up at three. The Roughnecks then regained the lead when Curtis Dickson scored with less than five minutes left in the third. The Roughnecks also got a late goal from Dobbie with 9.7 seconds left in the third quarter and Calgary took that 5-3 lead into the final quarter.
The biggest moment of the game happened early in the fourth quarter. Ethan O’Connor picked up a rebound within the first minute of the quarter and scored over Del Bianco, but the referees ruled that his foot was in the crease. Calgary went right back down and Dobbie found the back of the net to make it 6-3. After a lengthy review, the call was upheld and the Roughnecks had their largest lead of the game.
“They called it in the crease and it was tough to see that before he scored,” Tavares said. “It looked really tight and I agree that there probably wasn’t enough evidence to overturn it. I’m just impressed with that call, but with that two-goal swing that seemed to be the turning point in the game.”
After Small scored on the power play for the Bandits, Calgary scored the next three goals to take a 9-4 lead. Dobbie, Jesse Jing and Dan Taylor were the goal scorers.
“After that first half, you could tell that goals were going to be at a premium,” Small said. “They got a couple goal run there and offensively we need to do a better job of scoring in bunches and we didn’t do that. As JT said, we need better shots and just taking that half second or split second to pick a spot rather than shoot blind because he [Del Bianco] was definitely challenging us as shooters and we just need to be more accurate with our shots.”
The Bandits continued to battle as Josh Byrne scored consecutive goals and Chase Fraser added his only goal of the game to make it 9-7 with 5:35 remaining in regulation. However, that two-goal deficit was the closest the Bandits got as Calgary’s Mitch Wilde scored the empty net goal to make it 10-7 with 1:26 remaining.
“We play to be something bigger than ourselves and when it’s not going up front, it’s heartbreaking when we can’t stop them on the back end,” Steve Priolo said.
Game 2 of the NLL Finals will be at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 25. With a win, the Bandits will return home for Game 3 on Friday, May 31 at 8 p.m.