Lacrosse is a game of runs. After seeing a 3-0 lead evaporate in the second quarter of their playoff opener against the Rochester Knighthawks, the Buffalo Bandits knew they needed an answer.
“We knew we had to get the next one,” said Dhane Smith. “They’re a great team, give them credit. They had a great season. We knew they were going to come at us hard.”
The Bandits scored four goals to close out that second quarter and take an 8-4 lead at halftime. But even after taking that lead into the break it was a third-quarter tally by Ian MacKay that broke the Knighthawks’ backs.
MacKay’s second goal of the night came on a breakaway, as he outran the Rochester defense and helped the Bandits bolt past the Knighthawks in a 20-8 win on Saturday night. The win propelled the Bandits to the East Conference Final, where they will face the Toronto Rock in a best-of-three series beginning next Friday in Banditland.
MacKay posted five points (2+3) and collected 11 loose balls and was a force all over the floor against the Knighthawks.
“Coincidentally I thought he was one of our best, if not best player (tonight),” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “He played 200 feet, great defense. He played power play. Five on five. He was great for us.”
MacKay was one of five Bandits to record at least five points. Chris Cloutier (3+4), Kyle Buchanan (3+2), Josh Byrne (4+5) and Smith (3+7) each recorded a hat trick in the win for Buffalo. Their potent offense forced Rochester to eventually pull goaltender Rylan Hartley.
“We have a tough offense,” Vinc said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t go your way, bounces don’t go your way. He’s going to be a good goalie for a long time in this league.”
The ball bounced the Bandits’ way early and often. Despite a 3-0 first quarter lead getting wiped out by a trio of goals from the stick of Holden Cattoni, they found plenty of offense to pull away. As the No.1 seed heading into the playoffs, Vinc felt the team was coming together at the right time.
“I know that we’re capable of doing a lot of great things on the offensive end, especially after … I feel like us gelling in Albany,” Vinc said. “But that team (Rochester) played us tough for the first two games this year. Winner take all, you never really know what to expect.”
In the postseason you can traditionally expect the unexpected. But the one consistency the Bandits hope to rely on is their potent offense. By dishing out seven assists, Smith feels the depth of the Bandits will be a handful for teams in the postseason now that everyone is healthy.
“It’s definitely easy, having a powerhouse offense like we do,” Smith said. “It’s one of those things that makes my job easy if they’re going to double team me, I can just give those guys the ball. It takes a lot of stress off myself.”
Having options on offense will come in handy when they meet their next opponent, Toronto. It’s a matchup they’ve all but expected with the top two teams in the East headed on a collision course for the postseason.
“I think last year we kind of were a little bit cocky,” Smith said. “We were the team to beat, I think. Now they’re saying Toronto is, which is awesome. We have a chip on our shoulder, right?”
Vinc, who led all NLL goalies with 14 wins and 742 saves this season started in net and stopped 44 shots for the Bandits. Hartley started in net for Rochester. He allowed 15 goals and was eventually lifted for Riley Hutchcraft.
How it happened
MacKay opened the scoring 23 seconds into the first quarter, beating Hartley on the Bandits’ first shot of the game.
Kyle Buchanan extended the Bandits’ lead to 2-0 with 9:39 to play.
Rochester’s Thomas Hoggarth was given a four-minute penalty for roughing after a skirmish erupted in front of the Bandits’ bench. Buffalo’s Nick Weiss was also given two-minute penalty for roughing, netting the Bandits a power play.
Buffalo capitalized to extend their lead to 3-0. Byrne pounced on a loose ball that bounced from the right corner to the front of the crease and whipped a shot past Hartley with 5:04 remaining for a power-play goal. The play was reviewed for a crease violation, but Hartley deftly kept his feet above the orange paint.
With one minute remaining, Buffalo’s Justin Martin was whistled for cross-checking putting the Bandits on the penalty kill.
The Knighthawk’s Cattoni was called for tripping, wiping out the man-advantage just 26 seconds into Martin’s penalty.
Rochester erased Buffalo’s 3-0 lead with a trio of goals to start the second quarter. Cattoni atoned for his penalty at the end of the first quarter by scoring three-straight goals to even the score 3-3.
Knighthawks’ goalie Hartley was called for roughing to give Buffalo at 7:12. The penalty was served by Rochester’s Joe Post. Cloutier put Buffalo back in the driver’s seat on the ensuing power play 4-3.
The two teams exchanged goals as Rochester tied the game 4-4 with 5:57 to play on a goal by Connor Fields before Cloutier once again pushed the Bandits back into the lead 5-4 with his second of the game 45 seconds later.
Buffalo closed out the quarter with three-straight goals. Dhane Smith scored his first of the game to make the score 6-4 after he put a spin move on three Rochester defenders and launched a shot past Hartley.
Smith scored his second of the game after he came streaking down the middle and buried a pass from Tehoka Nanticoke to give the Bandits a 7-4 lead with 2:42 to play.
Nanticoke added a goal of his own with 30 seconds left to double-up the Knighthawks 8-4.
Rochester opened the second half with two goals by Ryan Smith and Hoggarth, who scored on the power play, to cut Buffalo’s lead to 8-6 but that was as close as the Knighthawks got all night as the Bandits scored fight-straight goals to pull away.
Smith scored his third of the game to give the Bandits a 9-6 lead at 7:25 and MacKay potted his second on the game on a breakaway to give the Bandits a 10-6 lead and send the building into a frenzy. MacKay
McKay intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and raced in alone on a breakaway to snap a shot past Hartley at 5:59.
Steve Priolo scored on a breakaway of his own 30 seconds later to make the score 11-6 and Buchanon tallied his second of the game to make it 12-6 with 5:03 to play.
Byrne gave the Bandit’s a baker’s dozen and a 13-6 lead with his second goal of the game, ending Hartley’s night. Riley Hutchcraft replaced Hartley in goal.
Curtis Knight ended the Bandit’s barrage with a goal for Rochester at 3:44 to make the score 13-7.
Byrne answered right back with his third goal to put Buffalo up 14-7.
The Bandits erupted for six unanswered goals in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Knighthawks as Buffalo built a 20-7 lead.
With 6:12 to play, coach Tavares called a timeout and pulled Vinc to a standing ovation. Devlin Shanahan replaced Vinc in goal.
Cattoni scored his fourth of the game with 54 seconds left to make the score 20-8.