By Chris Ryndak - Bandits.com
When it comes to John Tavares, the NLL's all-time leading scorer, sometimes there simply aren't words to describe what he's doing on the floor.
At 43 years of age and certainly not as spry in his step as he once was, Tavares could have easily been sat by the Buffalo Bandits coaching staff in the team's regular season finale on Saturday so that he could rest up for the first round of the playoffs in Toronto next weekend.
Instead, he suited up and did what he's been doing for 21 seasons with the Bandits. He won.
Tavares scored three goals in the Bandits' 17-16 victory over the Washington Stealth (4-12) at Comcast Arena including the overtime winner with 5:05 to play in the extra period. At 69:55, the game was the fifth-longest affair in NLL history.
Tavares’ hat trick gave him 41 goals on the season, the ninth time he’s eclipsed the 40-goal mark in his career. With two assists in the game, he reached the 80-point plateau, making 2012 his most productive season since 2009 when he scored 51 goals and 94 points. Tavares led the league with 21 power play goals this season as well.
Mark Steenhuis, the league’s reigning Transition Player of the Week, also had a big game for the Bandits (7-9) with three goals and four assists. He finished his regular season with 27 goals and 62 points, besting last season’s point total by one.
With two points against the Stealth, forward Luke Wiles finished second on the team in scoring with 39 goals and 31 assists. Those 70 points were his highest since he put up 82 in San Jose (30+52).
Forward Roger Vyse scored his 100th career goal in the first quarter and added Nos. 101 and 102 later in the game. He also had an assist.
Forwards Mat Giles, Kevin Buchanan and Chad Culp, transition players Jay Thorimbert, Jeremy Thompson and Tom Montour and defenseman Scott Self also scored for the Buffalo.
Buffalo goaltender Anthony Cosmo had another strong game between the pipes. Cosmo made 47 saves on 63 Stealth shots to earn the victory. Mike Thompson, nursing a sprained MCL watched his second-straight game from the bench.
The squad was also without the services of forward Tracey Kelusky (healthy scratch), defenseman Darryl Gibson (thigh bruise) and forward Brandon Francis (suspension). Earlier in the week, they moved defenseman Steve Priolo, who is suffering from an illness, to the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Both Cosmo and Stealth goaltender Kevin Croswell were sharp in overtime. Cosmo stopped all six Stealth shots in overtime while Croswell stopped five of six.
The Bandits had control of the game early as Thorimbert scored 1:06 in. Buffalo took a 4-0 lead in the first quarter but the Stealth would wake up in a big way. Washington went on to score seven of the game’s next eight goals to take a 7-5 lead.
If not for three late first-half goals from the Bandits including two from Steenhuis, the Bandits would have gone into the locker room facing a deficit. Instead, they entered halftime with an 8-7 lead.
While Washington tied the game 33 seconds into the second half on a Lewis Ratcliff goal, the Bandits were able to separate themselves from the Stealth by four goals by the time the horn ended the third quarter.
It was in the fourth quarter, however, down 14-10, that the Stealth staged their comeback. Rhys Duch scored 39 seconds in and, while the Bandits answered with two goals, a high-sticking major to defenseman Billy Dee Smith 6:11 into the quarter opened the door for the Stealth.
The Stealth scored three times on that power play, pulling them within two goals. Washington’s power play finished with six goals on five opportunities. They continued to put the pressure on the Bandits' defense even after they ended the power play with the set of goals. Duch scored with 3:46 to play and Ratcliff completed the five-goal rally by tying the game at 16 with 1:39 to go in regulation.
Neither team could capitalize on their opportunities in the extra period, as either the shot clock ran out or a goaltender came up with a big save to end a possession. Special teams decided an exciting, up-and-down overtime.
Athan Ianucci was called for an illegal cross-check at the 8:09 mark to give the Bandits the advantage they’d need.
Buffalo’s power play ended up with two goals on five chances, but it was that final goal that made all the difference.
On the team’s third possession on the power play, Tavares left the ball at the point for Steenhuis. As the Bandits worked the ball around the floor, Steenhuis handed it back off to Tavares who stepped up and ripped a shot that trickled past Croswell to end the game.
Ratcliff and Duch gave the Bandits defenders fits all night. Ratcliff ended up with seven goals, four assists and 19 shots on goal, while Duch had four goals and four assists. Iannucci scored twice – both times on that 5-minute power play – and added six assists.
Bob Snider dominated the face off circle for Washington going 30-7 (81 percent) on the draw. Self (0-4), Montour (0-1), Jeremy Thompson (3-12) and Thorimbert (4-13) all tried their luck against Snider to little success.
Tyler Richards made 17 saves on 29 shots before being replaced by Croswell in the third quarter. Croswell turned aside 17 of 22 shots including one on a Self breakaway with about 30 seconds left in regulation.
The Bandits open the first round of the playoffs on Saturday, May 5 against the Toronto Rock, the East Division Champions, at Air Canada Centre. The Bandits will be the fourth-seed. The opening face off is scheduled for 7 p.m.