One down, four to go
The East Conference Finals, as predicted, starts Friday night at 7:30 PM, on the turf of KeyBank Center against the Toronto Rock.
This will be the third straight year and seventh overall conference finals between these two clubs.
Without question, they are two of the best teams in the National Lacrosse League. And it will be the survival of the fittest, as Game 2 will be played twenty-one and half hours later, Saturday at 7 PM in Hamilton.
Claiming the regular season series two games to one, the Bandits are now poised to continue their strong play based on the good health of the roster.
In the last two games played, which include the end-of-season win over Albany, and the 20-8 Quarterfinals win against Rochester, the Bandits offense has been reunited with poetry in motion.
Shooting 26 percent last Saturday night from the floor is most impressive, and the contribution of the seven forwards showed great chemistry and conviction.
Just watch Dhane Smith (#92) and the rest of the Bandits forwards combine to create havoc. Smith then becomes a standing decoy only to run back in through a quad of Rochester defenders to score.
Here, Josh Byrne and Tehoka Nanticoke looked like they agreed that #1 would score. Watch the intensity and athletism of Byrne tied up with Rochester’s Ryland Rees, twisting and turning to break free, getting it to Smith, who returns it to Nanticoke, ending with a sweeping score.
The five-goal third-quarter run in less than four minutes was masterful. And the two mad unassisted scoring dashes by Ian MacKay (2+3=5) and Steve Priolo (1+1=2) respectfully showed how focused the entire team was and the command of the floor.
38 seconds later, Pri’s spree…
It was undoubtedly one of the finest defensive performances I have seen in quite some time. Playing under a cloud of elimination had a lot to do with it.
But this group, with pokes and strides of Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne, and MacKay, complimented the cast of Priolo, Nick Weiss, Ethan O’Connor, Adam Bomberry, Matt Spanger, Justin Martin, Justin Robinson, and Bryce Sweeting.
Here is a sample of many great defensive plays from last Saturday night. Justin Martin, Bryce Sweeting, and Nick Weiss team up together.
“It’s the little things we did to help ourselves get prepared. We had some micro goals, and we achieved those,” said Priolo, whose nine loose balls pushed his playoff totals to 160, making him the ninth player in NLL playoff history to achieve such.
Rightfully belted, the heavyweight player of the game, Ian MacKay, had a career performance that included 11 loose balls and two caused turnovers.
Here is MacKay back into action up front, joining the constant movement and nanosecond goal by the Great Dhane.
While the statistics game report goes through a final check mid-week, I’m sure there will be some additional marks of blocked shots and loose ball scoops.
There were indeed more than seven blocked shots. From my vantage point, way up high, it looked like a car going through a winter scene being pelted with snowballs. So many soakers!
Goaltender Matt Vinc, playing in his NLL record 40th playoff game, had another intense night, especially in the first half, making 25 of his 44 saves in 54 minutes played.
Rochester’s Turner Evans goes face-to-face with Vinc, who reads him perfectly.
Curtis Knight is, too, denied.
“We have VNO,” chimed Priolo, stating that all needed to be said.
Ditto to Devlin Shanahan with six minutes of clean-up, making six saves. He spent previous seasons on the practice squad, was the backup this season, and now has registered his official playoff debut.
Here is a great moment of Vinc handing the keys to Devlin Shanahan to finish the game.
And Max Adler, the Bandits faceoff specialist, won 60 percent of the draws, creating the now ever-so-important first possession.
To the great fans of Banditland, you were the extra attacker Saturday night.
Now get ready for a big storm coming down the QEW.
The Rock have every intention of taking this series in two. And they match every aspect of talent the Bandits have.
It will be the small things done right. A command of the turf. And failure is not an option.
“We need to remember what our principles have been all year, allowing us to make tweaks along the way. We need to frustrate them early, taking them out of the things they want to do well,” noted Bandits general manager and defensive coordinator Steve Dietrich.
“If we can stick to that, we should be OK.”
Come to think of it, let’s all stick together through this. It just takes four.
On the Air
Friday’s game will be carried by TSN, ESPN+ and TSN+ starting at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday’s game will start at 7:00 PM.
Radio coverage of both Friday and Saturday will be carried by WGR Sports Radio 550.
Friday’s pregame show will start at 7 p.m. and feature a chat with the respective coaches, the Bandits’ John Tavares and the Rock’s Matt Sawyer. From a player’s perspective, Chris Corbeil will provide a Rock update. Chase Fraser will join us.
Saturday’s pregame show will start at 6:30 p.m. Bandits GM and defensive coordinator Steve Dietrich will update us, as well associate coach Colin Doyle. The Rock’s Zach Manns and the Bandits’ Max Adler will share the players’ perspectives.