The Buffalo Bandits couldn’t overcome a 9-2 run in the second half by the Toronto Rock in their 10-7 loss Saturday night at KeyBank Center.
Heading into the season finale, the Bandits had already cemented themselves as the NLL’s top seed. At 14-4, they’ll have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The 14 wins tied a franchise-high, which was set in 2019-20. The league expanded its schedule from 16 games to 18 back in 2014-15.
“Today was a real learning experience for our group,” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “It was a wake-up call that we have to play a full 60 minutes and capitalize on all of our opportunities.”
Tickets are on sale NOW for Round 1 of the @NLL Playoffs in BANDITLAND!
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) April 13, 2022
In the first half, the Bandits allowed just one goal, the fewest in a half all season. After giving up the first goal of the game, Buffalo rattled off five in a row to go up 5-1 at halftime.
Offense was hard to come by throughout the third quarter with just three total goals scored. Toronto, down 6-3 heading into the fourth quarter, outscored the Bandits 7-1 in the final frame, including six straight to end the night.
It marked just the third time since 2005 that Buffalo blew a lead of three goals or more in the fourth quarter. It was also the first time all season that the Bandits offense scored fewer than 10 goals.
Toronto ended the season on a five-game winning streak. They started the year 2-3 but have gone 11-2 since. They’ll enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the East.
Kyle Buchanan carried the weight for Buffalo’s offense with a hat-trick performance.
Josh Byrne chipped in with two goals and an assist. Tehoka Nanticoke and Chris Cloutier netted the other Bandit goals.
Goaltender Matt Vinc made 32 saves, coming just six stops shy of breaking Anthony Cosmo’s NLL single-season record for saves in a season. Vinc ends the year with 747 stops.
Dhane Smith was held scoreless for the first time since January 17, 2017, and was unable to break the league’s single-season points record of 137, which he set in 2016. He finishes the year with 135 points (41+94)
For Toronto, captain Challen Rogers (3+1) added timely scoring and Dan Craig (1+3) facilitated the Toronto offense as they tied for a game-high in points. The Rock also received production from Tom Schrieber (2+1), Dan Dawson (2+1), and Mitch de Snoo (1+3).
Goaltender Nick Rose picked up his 13th victory, stopping 42 shots with an impressive .857 save percentage.
At the end of the night, both teams learned who they will be hosting in the opening round of the NLL playoffs next week.
The Albany FireWolves (9-9) will travel to Western New York to battle the Bandits on Saturday. Faceoff from KeyBank Center is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.
Toronto will welcome the Halifax Thunderbirds (11-7) to the FirstOntario Centre next weekend.
The East is SET
Your matchups for the Quarterfinals ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/pyarKhvGrc
— NLL (@NLL) May 1, 2022
Buffalo will learn from the loss and turn the page as they look ahead to their single-elimination game against Albany.
“Toronto exposed a few things that taught us what we need to improve upon,” Tavares said. “With next week starting to be a single elimination format against Albany, they are confident that they can come into our home building and win, just like how Toronto did.”
The fact that next week is a win-or-go-home scenario is not lost on the players.
“One bad quarter can end your season if you don’t stop the bleeding,” Buchanan said. “Tonight was a great learning experience for us that our season is done if we come out and have a similar performance against Albany.”
The Bandits will now have a full week to prepare for the FireWolves, led by Joe Resetartis. This year, Buffalo has beaten Albany 13-8 in Banditland and 12-11 in overtime on the road to sweep the season series.