The Buffalo Bandits’ offense erupted in the second half Saturday afternoon, outscoring the Halifax Thunderbirds 10-3 afternoon, propelling them to a 16-11 victory at KeyBank Center.
With their 11th win of the season, the Bandits have clinched a berth in the 2022 NLL Playoffs.
The Bandits found themselves down 8-6 at halftime after being outscored 6-1 in the second quarter.
Halifax scored their sixth goal in a row 16 seconds into the third quarter before the Bandits staged their comeback.
While shorthanded, Ian MacKay netted one at the 3:56 mark of the third quarter to Buffalo within back within two. Buffalo then scored five more times in the third quarter and four more in the fourth to secure the victory.
“This season, we’ve been fortunate enough not to face a ton of adversity. When we have faced it, we’ve faced it head-on,” MacKay said following his three-point performance.
“I’m proud of the guys for locking down in the second half and just playing shift by shift to come out with a win.”
Josh Byrne, who finished with seven points (3+4), mentioned how MacKay’s game-altering goal reminded him of Buffalo’s response in the second game of the season in Rochester against the Knighthawks. In that game, Buffalo was down one in the fourth quarter until Connor Fields sparked a six-goal run to win 12-8.
“I think it shows the amount of confidence we have in each other,” Byrne said. “As long as we stick to our systems and what we want to accomplish, the balls eventually start to find the back of the net.”
Byrne was named the game’s First Star. He scored both the goals to put Buffalo ahead 10-9 and 11-10 in the third quarter. Dhane Smith posted a game-high nine points (3+6), making it four consecutive games where he has scored at least eight points.
Matt Vinc finished with 54 saves, tying his season-high for his 11th victory of the year.
A season-high nine different Bandits scored against Halifax. Tahoke Nanticoke (2+1), Ian MacKay (2+1), Connor Fields (1+3), Chris Cloutier (2+0), Chase Fraser (1+2), Kyle Buchanan (1+2) and Kevin Brownell (1+1) all made multi-point games.
“We’re going to continue to attack committee,” coach John Tavares said. “It’s a lot easier to defend against two weapons than five guys that are on the floor who all can score.”
Buffalo also held Halifax in check on the power-play, making the Thunderbirds go 0-for-7 on their man-advantage opportunities that could’ve swayed the game in a different direction.
“Statistically, they struggle [on the power-play], but they have great offensive players that can put the ball in the net,” Tavares said. “In this league, you can go from last in power-play numbers and go 5-for-5 the next game, so I’m extremely pleased with our defensive effort with a man down.”
For Halifax, Shawn Evans finished with a goal and five assists, boosting his point total to 16 against the Bandits this season due to three prior matchups when he was a member of the Knighthawks.
Both Stephen Keogh (2+2) and Cody Jamieson (1+3) added four points for Halifax, but nobody on the Thunderbirds had a more impressive showing than Dawson Theede, who scored four goals and dished out one assist.
Warren Hill stopped 26 of the 42 shots he faced in the loss.
With the win, Buffalo becomes the first team in the NLL to lock up a playoff spot.
They’ll face the Thunderbirds again on Sunday in Halifax at 4 p.m.
Tavares knew the importance of this two-game stretch in terms of playoff positioning and what it meant to win at home.
“I didn’t want to bring that up to put pressure on the guys because I knew if we won this game, there would be no way for Halifax to own the tiebreaker against us,” Tavares said.
Buffalo’s mentality will be to stay hungry and not take tomorrow’s game in Nova Scotia lightly for what it means for the Thunderbirds, who are now trying to snap a three-game losing streak.
“It’s definitely a bit of a sigh of relief winning today, but at the same time, they’re going to come angry tomorrow along with their fans,” MacKay. “We have to bring the same intensity as we did today, do all the right things, and come up with a win tomorrow.”
Even though there is uncertainty in knowing what to expect for their first back-to-back set this season, Byrne said he was excited for the challenge.
“It’s better, honestly, and more fun this way,” he said. “We started to get in a rhythm today, and now we have to keep it throughout the rest of this stretch. It’s gonna be fun.”