The Buffalo Bandits couldn’t have asked for a better finish to their first game of the 2019-20 season. The Bandits scored three times in the final 2:18 to earn a 13-10 win over the San Diego Seals on Saturday at KeyBank Center.
A back-and-forth affair between the Bandits and San Diego came down to the final minutes in a tough, physical season opener between these two teams. The game was tied with under five minutes to go before the Bandits offense came alive at the end.
Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith scored just 26 seconds apart to put Buffalo ahead 12-10 with 1:52 to play. After a flurry of saves by Matt Vinc in the final minute, Smith capped a six-point night (3+3) with an empty net goal to close out the scoring with 15.9 seconds remaining.
Smith’s six points led all Bandits’ scorers, while Chris Cloutier and Corey Small each had big nights for Buffalo with three goals and two assists each. Dallas Bridle had a five-point night as well (1+4), scoring his first career goal in the second quarter.
Bandits head coach John Tavares has been hoping to see scoring contributions collectively from his offense as a unit, instead of just a few players. He got exactly what he was looking for on Saturday night.
“I don’t want a team where we’re relying on one or two guys,” Tavares said after the game. “I want an unpredictable offense and I want everyone to be a threat. Everyone has the green light in transition. I don’t need two guys scoring five goals a game. If it happens, it happens. But I want to share the wealth.”
Tavares was also impressed with the way his team battled to the end in a close game and found a way to come up with a win.
“I thought it was a great lacrosse game,” Tavares said. “Both teams played hard. It was back and forth throughout the game, with lead changes several times. It came down to a five-minute game, then a three-minute game. We were fortunate to score a couple goals there, one into an empty net, to make it 13-10.”
The Bandits got on the board first as Small found the back of the net on a power play 1:39 into the game.
San Diego tied it up with a power play goal of their own as Connor Fields scored with 9:56 left in the quarter after Vinc made a save on a point-blank San Diego chance earlier in the power play.
Buffalo regained the lead when Chris Cloutier muscled his way to the net and buried a shot past Frank Scigliano with 3:17 left in the period.
The Bandits extended the lead to 3-1 just two minutes into the second quarter when Bridle took the ball strong to the crease and buried his shot for his first NLL goal.
Small struck again for Buffalo later in the quarter as he moved to the middle and ripped a shot past Scigliano. His second goal of the game put Buffalo up 4-2.
Cloutier mentioned how essential it is for the Buffalo offense to get Small open looks to score with his big-time shot.
“When you have as good of a shooter as Corey Small, you have to make sure he can get open for shots,” Cloutier said. “You want him taking those shots. He’s one of the best shooters in the league, if not the best.”
Tied at 4 at halftime, the Bandits got off to a fast start in the second half as Smith fed Small cutting toward the goal and he buried his shot for his third goal to give Buffalo the lead again just 27 seconds into the half.
Smith then found the back of the net himself on a delayed penalty as he ripped a shot in with 9:44 left in the quarter to put Buffalo up 6-4.
Again, San Diego came back as Jeremy Noble scored from in close to bring the score to 6-5. The goal was reviewed, but the goal stood up. With 5:14 left in the quarter, San Diego tied it as Kyle Buchanan netted his third of the night.
Just 11 seconds later, the Bandits regained the lead as Brent Noseworthy fed Matt Spanger for a drive to the net and a goal. The assist was the first career point for Noseworthy, Buffalo’s first-round draft pick.
The lead would not last for long as San Diego struck for two goals 11 seconds apart later in the quarter.
Noble’s second goal of the game was initially waived off for a crease violation, but a review overturned the call to even up the score. That was followed by Zack Greer’s goal to put San Diego ahead.
Buffalo came back as Cloutier tallied his second goal of the night on a great run to the net with 1:58 left in the quarter. That was followed by Ian MacKay’s goal to retake the lead with 38.4 seconds left in the quarter. The play was set up by a long lead pass from Justin Martin.
In the fourth quarter, San Diego tied the game with eight minutes to play as Greer notched his second tally and fifth point of the night.
With under six minutes to play, the Bandits came up with a shorthanded goal as Cloutier completed the hat trick with 5:55 to play.
Small was impressed with the play of his teammate all night for Buffalo.
“Chris was incredible tonight,” said Small. “He got to those greasy areas and got some big loose balls for us. All his goals were right on top of the crease, fighting through traffic to get an open shot, so, if he can play like that night in and night out, he’s going to have a great year and we’re going to be a successful offense.”
San Diego would tally again to tie the game just 55 seconds later to make it 10-10 with 5:00 to play. The Bandits didn’t panic, however, instead rising to the occasion to take control of the game in the final minutes.
With under three minutes to play, Byrne made the play of the game as he put a move on a San Diego defender and drove all alone to the net, scoring to put Buffalo ahead with 2:18 to play.
Just 26 seconds later, the Bandits went up by two goals as Smith scored his second of the game with just 1:52 to play.
Bandits captain Steve Priolo said the team has confidence that they’re going to come through in end-game situations like Saturday’s.
“We keep telling ourselves on defense, just hold them off until the fourth, because that’s when our offense takes over,” Priolo said. “You saw Cloutier and Josh and Dhane, they came alive in that fourth. It’s all about just grinding and to keep going. We have faith in our offense.”
San Diego outshot Buffalo for the game, 60-54. Vinc stopped 49 shots for the Bandits in the win.
The Bandits will be off until Dec. 28, when they host Halifax at KeyBank Center at 7 p.m.