Just hours before Game 1 of the NLL Finals on Saturday, Banditland received the unfortunate news that Buffalo Bandits forward Josh Byrne had been placed on injured reserve and would be unable to play.
At that point, Byrne was tied for the league lead in playoff scoring with teammate Dhane Smith.
Losing a player of his caliber could have derailed the team’s game plan and mindset, but instead, the players embraced the challenge, resulting in a 13-12 victory over the Colorado Mammoth at KeyBank Center.
“We are next man up through and through,” forward Tehoka Nanticoke, who recorded a hat trick, said. “I think we’ve proved that all year, and it’s no different this series.”
Ian MacKay led the team with seven points (1+6) and Smith scored five times. Chase Fraser (3+0) also had a multi-goal game.
“(Byrne being out) wasn’t the focus of our team,” head coach John Tavares said after the game. “It was, ‘What’s next?’ Who’s going to pick it up for us?’ …One man falls down and others guys are going to step up. That’s exactly what happened tonight. Without Josh, it reminded the guys we four games (in the regular season without him).”
Byrne’s status for the game is yet to be determined. UPDATE (11:15 a.m.) – Byrne has been ruled out for Game 2.
The Bandits are now in the driver’s seat to win the best-of-three series and claim their first title since 2008. A loss, however, will send the Finals back to Buffalo for a decisive Game 3 on Saturday.
Last year, Colorado rallied from an 0-1 series deficit against the Bandits to take home the 2022 championship.
Game 2 of the NLL Finals will commence today at 4 p.m. from Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. Fans can watch live on ESPN2 and ESPN+, and listen on WGR 550 and the Audacy app.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 29, 2023
“I think every game is going to be decided by one goal, so every play matters,” Tavares said.
Smith needs three goals to pass Mark Steenhuis (54) for second all-time in franchise postseason goals. Tavares is Buffalo’s leader with 84 playoff goals.
Smith also needs four assists to pass Dane Dobbie for third on the NLL’s all-time playoff list with 89. Smith needs eight points to pass Colin Doyle for fourth on the all-time playoff list with 145.
Matt Vinc needs one win to become the first goaltender in league history to reach 30 playoff wins.