With a chance to clinch a postseason berth, the Buffalo Bandits fell short Saturday night in a 13-8 loss to the Colorado Mammoth in a rematch of the 2022 NLL Finals at KeyBank Center.
Buffalo managed to tie the game 8-8 at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Mammoth pulled away with five unanswered goals.
“We didn’t lose for a lack of effort,” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “It’s times like these where guys gotta stick together, and not get on each other’s back.”
At 10-3, the Bandits remain atop the standings in the East in a three-horse race for the No. 1 seed. The Toronto Rock fell to Halifax to go to 10-4 while the 9-3 Rochester Knighthawks host Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Bandits’ offensive efforts were spearheaded by Josh Byrne (1+5), Chris Cloutier (2+3), Dhane Smith (0+4), and Chase Fraser (2+0).
The top contributors for Colorado’s victory were Ryan Lee (0+6), Zed Williams (2+3), Eli McLaughlin (3+2), Tyson Gibson (1+3), Ty Thompson (2+1), and Connor Robinson (3+0).
In net, Matt Vinc stopped 32 of the Mammoth’s 45 shots, while reigning NLL Finals MVP Dillon Ward turned away 38 of the Bandits’ 46 attempts on goal.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Picking up right where he left off from last week, Cloutier opened the scoring for the game, firing home a feed from Byrne at the 1:33 mark. Western New York native Zed Williams answered with 9:51 left for Colorado’s first goal.
Continuing a trend set by Cloutier last week, Fraser, fresh off the IR list, notched his first of the year to put the Bandits back in the lad.
“Felt great to be back with the team,” Fraser said after his first game of the season. “Not the result we wanted, but it felt great to finally be back out there. It was an honor to put the Bandits jersey back on.”
Buchanan then added a shorthanded tally, building on the Bandits lead. Carter McKenzie contributed as well, burying a 2-on-1 feed from Dylan Robinson with just 41.0 seconds remaining in the quarter.
McKenzie’s addition wasn’t the last action of the quarter though, as Bandits captain Steve Priolo dropped the gloves with Colorado’s Jeffrey Warren, igniting an already raucous Banditland to end the frame.
After being burned in the first, the Mammoth extinguished the Bandits’ fire to start the second and opening the quarter on a 4-0 run to take their first lead of the game. Gibson tallied and then Colorado received consecutive goals from Thompson and another from Robinson in a span of 2:44.
Fraser’s second of the night evened the score at five with 4:47 left in the first frame. Exactly two minutes later, Cloutier added his second as well, to grant the lead back to Buffalo.
Eli McLaughlin’s first of the night returned the score to even, but Chris Wardle’s goal with 44.4 seconds remaining gave the Mammoth the 7-6 lead as the first half reached its conclusion. Despite the deficit, Buffalo held the shot advantage over Colorado with a slight 25-24 edge.
The Mammoth, however, would not trail the rest of the way.
An uneventful third quarter was a surprise after such a back-and-forth first half. Quality chances from Buffalo and Colorado were turned away by both Vinc and Ward, leaving a majority of the third as a stalemate.
Brad McCulley was the first on the scoresheet in the quarter, knotting things at 7 with a goal with 3:24 left. The tie didn’t last for long, as Williams ripped home his second of the game for Colorado 1:34 later.
Byrne fired a shot past Ward for his first of the night with 12:33 left in the game to tie things up for the fifth time. But just minutes later, Robinson sniped home his second of the night to give Colorado a lead they would not relinquish.
The Colorado cushion continued to expand, with Robinson netting his hat trick goal and McLaughlin sneaking one past Vinc. Colorado held a 11-8 edge with 6:18 left in the matchup.
The Mammoth did not let up as McLaughlin notched his fourth of the night, and Anthony Joaquim took advantage of a Bandits turnover to ice the game on a breakaway goal with 1:58 left, giving the Mammoth a five-goal lead.
With exactly one minute left to go in the game, Brad McCulley and Josh Sullivan dropped the gloves for the game’s second fight, giving Banditland something to cheer about as the clock took its final breaths.
“We’re 10-3,” Tavares said. “If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that after 13 games, we’d be 10-3, I would be happy. I would take that any day.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
The Buffalo Bandits will have another opportunity to lock up a playoff berth next week when they travel out west for the first time this season to take on the San Diego Seals. The game is scheduled for a 10 p.m. start from Pechanga Arena in San Diego.