The Buffalo Bandits defeated the Albany FireWolves 10-5 in the opening round of the NLL playoffs Saturday night to advance to the East Conference Finals.
Buffalo now switches its focus to the No. 2 Toronto Rock for a best-of-three series beginning next Sunday in Banditland. Tickets for Game 1 are on sale now.
On to the next one. 🔥
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 8, 2022
Saturday was the Bandits’ third win over the FireWolves in 2022. Just like in their previous two meetings during the regular season, Albany didn’t make things easy for Buffalo with the season on the line.
Goals were hard to come by for both teams in the first half, as Buffalo goaltender Matt Vinc and Albany’s Doug Jamieson allowed just two goals each heading into the break.
“I thought tonight was a great lacrosse game,” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “I thought the offense played well in the first half; we just didn’t put the ball in the net.”
Buffalo outscored Albany 8-2 in the final 30 minutes of play, including Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne scoring in the opening 1:32 of the third quarter to give the Bandits their first lead of the night.
The Bandits would face turbulence midway through the third after Reilly O’Connor netted his second goal for the FireWolves to make it a one-score game. Connor Fields responded with a power-play tally that would stand as the game winner just two minutes later.
Buffalo’s defense was vital in not allowing Albany to make a comeback in the fourth, as the Bandits added four more goals for safe measure, including two empty netters.
Vinc was awarded the game’s first star, stopping 45 shots with an eye-popping .900 save percentage. His five goals allowed tied his best mark of the regular season, set against the Philadelphia Wings on March 12.
“He’s by far the best goalie in the world,” Ian MacKay said postgame. “With Vino back there, we know that we have a really good chance every game we go into.”
Dhane Smith had a game-high six points (2+4) after being held off the score sheet for just the third time in his career last week against the Toronto Rock. Josh Byrne and Connor Fields both finished with two goals and two assists.
MacKay, Chris Cloutier, Steve Priolo, and Frank Brown had the remaining goals for Buffalo.
Albany’s Joe Resetarits was held in check as the regular season goals leader scored just once for the FireWolves. In their two prior matchups this season, Resetarits recorded six goals and five assists.
Priolo was responsible for Resetarits’ lack of production as the Bandits captain was assigned to guard his old teammate all night long.
“He stood out tonight, and it’s hard to stand out as a defenseman,” Tavares said.
Priolo was the team’s Heavyweight Player of the Game for his efforts.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 8, 2022
The FireWolves’ second leading scorer, Ryan Benesch. had just one assist on the night. Jamieson finished with 49 saves in the loss.
It took until 9:17 into the game for either team to score a goal, when O’Connor beat Vinc put the FireWolves on the board. Less than a minute later, Smith overpowered Jamieson with a shot that trickled between the goalie’s legs and into the back of the net to even the score.
With two minutes remaining in the first half, Buffalo’s Matt Spanger caused a turnover and hit MacKay in stride for a breakaway opportunity to even the score. MacKay buried the shot against his PLL teammate in Jamieson, providing Buffalo with the spark they needed in transition.
“It was a momentum boost for the team. Just being such a low-scoring game getting one there going into the half and trying to build off that was huge,” MacKay said.
Even though Buffalo scored just four goals in their previous two halves of play dating back to the season finale loss against Toronto, Buffalo’s mature mentality motivated them to step up in the second half.
“In the playoffs, you’re just doing what needs to be done,” Byrne said. “If we’re doing the right things, eventually it’s going to work out for us. I’m proud of our group today battling through a little bit of adversity, especially in the beginning.”
The Banditland crowd also played a factor in the second half as the offense regained its normal form. After Byrne scored his second goal of the frame, Buffalo went on the power play and exhibited pretty passing around the perimeter before Fields cut across the crease and went airborne for a goal that erupted Banditland.
“The crowd’s gotten better each game, and this is by far the best arena play to play at with the best fans to play in front of,” MacKay said.
Cloutier added to the Bandit lead, making it a 7-4 game until Priolo touched the ball with his bare hand near the Buffalo crease resulting in a penalty shot.
In what could’ve been a turning point for Albany, Benesch was stopped by Vinc, making the crucial save for the Bandits.
With the first step complete in their chase to the championship, the Toronto Rock now stand in Buffalo’s way to make its 11th championship appearance in franchise history.
Toronto won the season series against Buffalo during the regular season, handing Buffalo two of their four losses on the campaign.
“They’re a great team and it’s going to be a great series,” Tavares said. “We’re just going to focus on that first game and try to win.”
“We want revenge,” added MacKay. “They’ve gotten the best of us this year and your mind focuses right to that right away. … It’s still pretty fresh in our mind.”