The best rivalry in the NLL will be renewed Sunday night when the Buffalo Bandits host the Toronto Rock in Game 1 of the East Conference Finals at KeyBank Center.
Buffalo is coming off a 10-5 victory in its single-elimination playoff opener against Albany last Saturday.
The Bandits and Rock met three times during the regular season. The Bandits won the first meeting in Buffalo, 12-6. The Rock won the next two matchups, including the regular-season finale on April 30.
“They’re a great team, and it’s going to be a great series,” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “We’re just going to focus on the first game and try to win here in Buffalo.”
Faceoff is at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN+ and 1520 AM. Tickets are on sale now.
Toronto entered the postseason as one of the NLL’s hottest teams, having gone 11-2 in its final 13 games. The Rock finished one game behind the first-place Bandits in the East Conference standings.
Toronto survived a comeback push from Halifax in its playoff opener last Friday. Halifax pulled ahead after erasing a 9-3 deficit, but Toronto’s Tom Schreiber scored the tying goal and captain Challen Rogers sealed the deal on a 14-13 win 2:27 into overtime.
“It’s a rivalry every time we play them and it only amplifies it in the playoffs,” Ian MacKay said. “We have a lot of experience against them, and we are really excited to face Toronto.”
Here is everything you need to know.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 12, 2022
More about the series
With just four teams remaining in the chase for the championship, Buffalo and Toronto will transition into a best-of-three format for this series.
After Banditland hosts Game 1, Buffalo will travel to FirstOntario Centre for Game 2 on Saturday, May 21. Game 3, if necessary, will be at KeyBank Center on Sunday, May 28.
In the West Conference, the No. 3 Colorado Mammoth have a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series with the No. 1 San Diego Seals after earning a 14-12 win on Friday.
Multiple Bandit players spoke on how they prefer the series format instead of the “one and done” mentality that was used in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We knew that if we didn’t come out and play our best lacrosse against Albany, that our season was going to be over,” Kyle Buchanan said. “The best-of-three gives you more of a playoff feel with the atmosphere and the travel back and forth, which is huge in us having home field advantage.”
Buffalo’s Josh Byrne mentioned how beneficial the loss to the Rock actually was for their group, as it shined light on some of the more glaring concerns Buffalo could address heading into the postseason.
Against the FireWolves, Buffalo saw improvement in their transition game, and defensively, limiting the opposition to minimal high danger scoring opportunities.
This week during practice, Byrne said the team put more emphasis on their shooting.
“We definitely needed to work on our shooting a bit, after our last game,” he said. “There were some chances that we buried most of the time, and last time we played Toronto we struggled to put the ball in the net in the second half.”
Buffalo’s high-scoring offense was on display all season long, but hit a rough patch scoring just four goals over two halves to end the regular season against Toronto and opening the playoffs against Albany. However, the Bandits got back to their normal ways with eight goals in the second half against the FireWolves.
JT Headed to the HOF
Tavares was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame on May 12.
Tavares played 24 seasons with the Bandits and is one of the best players the NLL has ever seen. The Toronto, Ontario native won three MVPs and was a part of all four championship teams in 1992, 1993, 1996, and 2008 for Buffalo.
A legend that means more to this game than words can express.
Congratulations to JT on his induction to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame! pic.twitter.com/aWIZadHLUV
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 14, 2022
Following his retirement in 2015, Tavares was the NLL all-time leader in games played (306), goals (815), assists (934), and points (1,749). His 2,464 loose balls are also second all-time.
Toronto’s Dan Dawson recently passed Tavares as the new record holder in games played and assists.
In international play, Tavares represented Team Canada twice and won gold in 2003 and 2007 at the World Championships.