A lighter Shade of Pale
Even though the Bandits turned cartwheels on the floor, as the fans called out for more, they looked like they kept their cards close to the vest with a 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter. But Toronto anted up with their poker face, scoring six straight to post a 10-7 victory.
Despite the loss, the Bandits regular season 14-4 record reflects just how good this team is. Here is a quick thumbnail review: A league-high 247 goals scored, averaging around 14 goals per game, allowing just over 10 goals for a stellar +62 GF/GA mark.
The club matched their home and away record with a 7-2 mark. They finished with the league’s best penalty kill with 65.8 percent and second in the power play with 52.8 percent. Buffalo shot 26 percent from the floor, with five players registering 30+ goal seasons.
Dhane Smith finished with his fifth 100+point season, including his 41+94=135 campaign, winning the league’s scoring race. Josh Byrne almost hit the century mark with a 37+62=99 performance, tying for sixth place in NLL scoring. Rookie Tehoka Nanticoke set the first-year team mark with 32 goals, including six game-winners.
Connor Fields has a career regular-season 32+35=67. Chase Fraser was spot on 32+24=56. Chris Cloutier had a career-high 25+34=59 mark, and Kyle Buchanan recorded his seventh 50-point-plus season with 19+38=57.
Ian MacKay is a great pilot on defense and transitioning, ending the regular season on an 11-game point-scoring streak. The third-year first-rounder MacKay finished with 11+12=23, 104 loosies, 15 caused-turnovers, and 14 blocked shots, including two back-to-back soakers Saturday night.
With a season worthy of Defenseman of the Year honors, the Bandits captain, Steve Priolo, went 3+15=18, 116 loose balls, 21 caused turnovers, and 16 blocked shots. The entire defensive unit had a stellar year, including Bryce Sweeting’s 21 blocked shots, second in the league.
And in what could be his eighth league Goaltender of the Year award-winning season, Matt Vinc was fantastic with a league-leading .807 save percentage, 747 saves, and a 14-4 record. He became the first goaltender in the league’s history to record over 9,000 minutes between the wickets.
Hopefully, everybody is healthy (Kevin Brownell was held out of the lineup Saturday night as a precaution). The focus this week is facing reality: A single-elimination quarterfinal playoff game against the upstart Albany FireWolves. They claimed fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Albany is a damn good team – period.
“We want to stay positive, build for this playoff game because any team in this league can beat anybody on a given night,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares. “You want to keep your skills, timing, and energy alive.”
It looked as if the Bandits didn’t want to show any more of their cards, with a 5-1 lead going into the second half. Despite the offense, the game featured some nifty defense and solid goaltending on both floor ends.
Nick Rose was stellar, making 42 saves, and the same for Matt Vinc with 32. Buffalo’s defense, led by Steve Priolo, created havoc all night as the team’s captain contributed with playmaking, earning two assists, and with loose ball captures, 11, and some punishing hits.
Holding off Toronto’s two-man advantage early in the first quarter, the Bandits set the game’s early tone, mixing offensive and defensive players in formation to hold off Toronto’s attack.
Here are some examples of the two-man penalty killing by the Bandits, forcing the shot clock to expire. Josh Byrne is a part of the trio, and Ian MacKay and Bryce Sweeting. Watch the play forced into the corner as Ian MacKay takes over, burning more time by smartly holding at center before Chris Cloutier takes over, burning more time, ending with an attempt behind the net.
How about this interception by Matt Spanger and a mad dash to set up Dhane Smith with a scoring opportunity.
“You’re looking to be a threat to score, but always looking for the offensive guys who have a little more of the gifted touch,” said Spanger, who had a career season with five goals and seven assists.
“Yeah, we look for shooting tips from the offensive guys, and Vince knows what’s working on other goaltenders.” The fifth-year pro is pretty good at picking his spots, shooting 50 percent from the floor with shots on net. Spanger had a solid playoff in 2019, scoring 2+1 in the Bandits’ four games.
With a couple of records on the line, all-time regular-season scoring, and the first player ever to earn 100 assists, Smith made a great effort but ended up scoreless. His defensive play was excellent, though, and was important. To begin with, he is such a humble person, and it’s always been team first.
The video shows it all
Again, more highlights for the Bandits’ defense as Priolo plays his position accordingly. Watch this beautiful kick save by Vinc, allowing Priolo to net the loose ball, breaking free with a scat through center, flipping the Ball to Josh Byrne, and then setting a pick as 22 files a flight plan, scoring his first of two on the night.
“It’s essential for us to have good focus going into the playoffs, doing the right things, building good habits, and polishing the right things,” noted Spanger.
The turning point in the game was another two-man advantage for Toronto in the third quarter, which allowed them to score and mount their comeback. They outscored the Bandits 9-2, including closing out with a six-goal flush.
Another example of Buffalo’s defense, despite the 9-7 deficit, is the five defenders on the prowl holding Toronto at bay. Watch Sweeting slide over and bang Dan Dawson, jarring the ball free, allowing Priolo to scoop one of his 11 loosies, breaking free of Rock swats, and running to center.
The Bandits made a strong last-ditch effort as Priolo found Byrne, who fed one to Nick Weiss but couldn’t grab it in his webbing. Smith, however, backed Weiss up with a scoop, staging a new play. Noticed Priolo in there creating space. But his shot hit Nanticoke, and despite the dive to save the ball with a swat, it was picked up by Toronto.
There were a couple of more pushes by the Bandits, but they couldn’t get the ball past Rose, and Toronto closed out the scoring with an empty netter.
Game over, drive home safely. See you next Saturday night, 7:30 pm, inside the Key Bank Center.
“We have great fans, and they have supported us pretty much every year that I’ve been here. Hopefully, we pack the place for the quarterfinals because the fans really help us. The more people, the merrier,” said Tavares.
Bars and Tones
The single-game elimination quarterfinals of the Eastern Conference between the Bandits and Firewolves will be covered by ESPN + and TSN.ca. The radio starts with the Bandits pregame show at 7 pm on 1520 The Bet.