The Buffalo Bandits split their season series against the Rochester Knighthawks, and tonight, the two teams will meet again with the stakes higher than ever.
Buffalo and Rochester will go head-to-head in a winner-take-all matchup at 7 p.m. at KeyBank Center. The winner will advance to the NLL East Conference Finals against Toronto. Limited tickets are still available. Fans can catch the game on ESPNU, ESPN+ and WGR 550.
“Playoffs is a whole different ball game,” head coach John Tavares said. “We spend every one of our 18 regular season games trying to make the playoffs, so we’re fortunate to be here.”
The Bandits and Knighthawks met twice during the regular season with each team winning at home. On January 20 in Rochester, the Knighthawks prevailed 15-12. The Bandits evened the season series, winning 13-10 in Buffalo on February 4.
Banditland. Playoffs. Soon. 🔥#LetsGoBandits | 🎟: https://t.co/dWW8zt9xTL pic.twitter.com/HEpIzIC6Zc
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 5, 2023
The Bandits will enter Saturday’s matchup as the No. 1 seed in the East, searching for the fifth championship in franchise history, and their first since 2008.
“Everyone is just so fired up,” Bandits forward Josh Byrne, who led the club with 43 goals and finished second with 93 points despite missing three games, said.
“Every season is different and it’s unique and you have a different road every single year. The final goal is to win a championship so there’s just been different things that you have to learn.”
Buffalo finished the year winning four of their last five games to finish the year with a record of 14-4.
The Bandits have earned the top seed in the postseason in three of the last four seasons (2018-19, 2021-22, 2022-23).
Dhane Smith led the team with 132 points and a league-record 96 assists. Matt Vinc was first among all NLL goaltenders with 14 wins and 742 saves.
Rochester, on the other hand, lost four of their final five regular-season games, but still managed to secure the No. 4 seed in the conference.
Saturday night will mark the Knighthawks’ first playoff game since the team’s expansion in 2019-2020, after the original franchise relocated to Halifax. Rochester picked up 10 wins this year, a significant improvement from their previous two seasons, where they won just two and four games, respectively.
Rochester’s maturity in the league can be attributed to some of their team leaders, including Connor Fields (52+60), Holden Cattoni (40+44), Ryan Smith (33+42), Curtis Knight (15+42), and Thomas Hoggarth (30+24).
The Knighthawks have bunkered down defensively this season as well, led by goaltender Rylan Hartley, who has averaged a 78 percent save percentage, along with 10 wins (T-4th) and 713 total saves (3rd).
The Bandits 50/50 is now open with a $25,000 guaranteed jackpot!
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 4, 2023
Both teams enter the matchup fully aware that nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.
“We’re very excited,” Byrne said. “It was a very long and up-and-down season where we’ve had to really grind and figure out different ways to win and it feels like we’re hitting our stride at the right time and getting a lot of guys back healthy.”