By Joe Ray – Bandits.com
While the Buffalo Bandits earned a big win against the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend at home, that momentum did not translate down the highway. Rochester handily won Game 2 of the NLL East Finals 13-8 tonight at Blue Cross Arena.
That win initiated a 10-minute mini-game to decide the series, where Joe Resetarits scored for Buffalo and Joel McCready answered for the Knighthawks. That first extra period solved nothing, so the two teams went to a 15-minute sudden death overtime.
After 1:51 more of extra time, Cory Vitarelli beat Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo to give Rochester a 2-1 victory. With the win, the Knighthawks punched their ticket to the NLL Finals where they'll meet the Calgary Roughnecks.
Cody Jamieson led all scorers in Game 2 with three goals and five assists for Rochester. Johnny Powless had three goals and two assists, and Dan Dawson had two goals and an assist early before being knocked out by a huge hit from Rory Smith early in the second quarter. Matt Vinc stopped 27 of 35 shots in the win.
Dhane Smith continued his excellent postseason for the Bandits, leading Buffalo scorers with three goals and three assists. Ryan Benesch added a goal and two assists, and Cosmo stopped just 30 of 43 shots faced.
"It was one of those games where their back was against the wall in Game 2," Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said after the game. "They came and played physical, tough defense. Everything we got, we earned. They came to play.
WATCH: TROY CORDINGLEY POST-GAME INTERVIEW
You get into that ten-minute game, and I thought we had a lot more energy than they did. We had some good opportunities, [but the] ball wasn't falling for us. There's a lot of character in our room, and we never gave up."
After Vitarelli opened the scoring for the Knighthawks in Game 2, the Bandits broke out on a three-goal run. Benesch broke free in transition just over four minutes into the game and buried a pass from Smith past Vinc. Smith scored two goals in four minutes, including a nifty shot in a four-on-four situation, to give the Bandits their biggest lead of the game at 3-1.
"Dhane really picked up his game," Cordingley said. "That's a real good thing for us with his maturity level as a player. He stepped up huge, and he was good at both ends. Offensively, the ball was dropping for him and he just worked. Everything that he did resulted in something positive because he was working."
The Knighthawks would retaliate with three unanswered goals of their own at that point. Dawson used some nifty moves to shake the smaller Buffalo defenders before putting a shot past Cosmo to narrow the score to 3-2.
With 1:19 left in the first quarter and Shawn Williams in the penalty box after an illegal pick, Powless picked up a rebound and beat Cosmo to tie the game at three. Just 30 seconds later, Dawson added his second of the game. Jamie Rooney was able to get free in front of Vinc to bring the score to 4-4 as the first quarter came to a close.
The intensity in the first quarter really seemed to wear on both teams, who wasted no time in putting everything on the line for a shot at the championship.
"Obviously it was tough," Smith said after the losses. "We knew coming in it was going to be a battle, and they were going to come out flying. We just had to match their intensity. The game seemed really long to be honest, for myself and my teammates. We wore them down, and we should have gotten a better outcome."
WATCH: DHANE SMITH POST-GAME INTERVIEW
After Dawson left the game in the opening minutes of the second quarter, Jamieson took over to jump-start Rochester’s six-goal quarter. Powless completed his hat trick with two goals 39 seconds apart, including an athletic power-play goal in which he bounced the ball in the air through three Buffalo defenders before beating Cosmo.
McCready scored with just under six minutes to play in the first half before a power-play goal from Buffalo’s Mark Steenhuis ended the Knighthawks’ run at five goals. The Bandits would be unable to capitalize on the goal, as Stephen Keogh gave Rochester a 10-5 lead heading into halftime.
"That second period was crucial," Resetarits said. "We got away from what we preach, and it turned on us."
While the Bandits came out in the second half with a number of good shots, Rochester got on the board first in the third quarter. Scott Campbell stripped the ball from Mitch Wilde before running the floor and putting a shot past Cosmo at the 4:01 mark.
The Bandits’ transition game showed its face briefly in the third quarter. Cosmo made a long outlet pass to Smith, who found John Tavares behind the Rochester defense to narrow the deficit to five with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Buffalo’s offense had a hard time generating anything early in the fourth, but goals from Smith and Rooney 20 seconds apart brought the score to 12-8 with 7:45 left in regulation. That stretch of momentum would be ended promptly by a skilled one-handed shot from Jamieson, the NLL’s leading scorer in 2014.
Both sides locked down on defense, and the 13-8 score would give Rochester the win in the regulation game. While the Bandits certainly did not want to hand the Knighthawks an easy victory, being down five at halftime helped the coaching staff adjust to prepare for the short Game 3.
"After the second TV timeout [in the fourth quarter] down by five, now you want to think about the ten-minute game," Cordingley said. "That's the first time I've done that in my career. You want to win every game, but you realize there's a ten-minute game right after. It's a pretty strange feeling to sit back and not go after that win, but anyways, that was the strategy."
While Cosmo and Vinc owned the mini-game with remarkable saves all over the place, Resetarits opened the scoring with 4:40 to play. Hounded by a Rochester defender, Resetarits launched a shot as he fell to the floor, and the ball just snuck past Vinc.
McCready was able to tie the game with a late goal for the Knighthawks. After being scratched in Game 1, McCready bounced off Derek Suddons and unleashed a shot that beat Cosmo at the left post. The goal would be the last of the initial ten minutes before heading to overtime.
After Resetarits was robbed by Vinc on a wraparound attempt in the first minute of sudden-death overtime, the Bandits saw their playoff window close abruptly. Vitarelli got the ball on offense for Rochester, sped away from David Brock and Andrew Watt, and unleashed a shot over the left shoulder of Cosmo.
With a fantastic start to the season followed by a winless stretch of eight games before two playoff victories, this Bandits group has had their character tested all year. This final contest with Rochester was truly a microcosm of everything the Bandits endured in 2014.
"We could have easily just lost to Toronto [in the first round] and have been rebuilding again," Tavares said. "I think we did see some light at the end of the tunnel there. We have a pretty good nucleus ... keep continuing to build and develop a winning organization."
WATCH: JOHN TAVARES POST-GAME INTERVIEW
"It's something we definitely had to adjust to," Resetarits said after the mini-game. "We thought we played [well] in those ten minutes, unfortunately we took it to sudden death and they scored.
"It's really nothing to hang our heads on," he continued. "People wrote us off from day one of this season. We got as far as we wanted and proved everyone wrong."
"We could have easily just lost to Toronto [in the first round] and have been rebuilding again," Tavares said. "I think we did see some light at the end of the tunnel there. We have a pretty good nucleus, keep continuing to build and develop a winning organization."
The goal ended the Bandits’ wild 2014 season and gave the Knighthawks a shot at an unprecedented third-straight Champion's Cup. Game 1 of the two-game series will be held in Calgary on May 24, and Game 2 will be at Blue Cross Arena on May 31.