With first place on the line Saturday night, the Buffalo Bandits offense returned to form just in time to score the biggest win of the season so far in Banditland.
The Bandits moved into a first-place tie and exacted some revenge for an earlier loss by knocking off the Halifax Thunderbirds, the leaders coming into the night in the North Division, 13-9 on Saturday at KeyBank Center.
With the win, Buffalo ties Halifax for the top spot in the North division and improves to 7-3 on the 2019-20 season.
The result also dropped Halifax to 7-3, meaning Buffalo has now matched them in the North Division standings, a division Halifax has led all season long. It’s now a three-way tie atop the division as Toronto also won on Saturday night to improve to 7-3 as well.
The Thunderbirds had moved out in front of Buffalo in the division standings by coming into Western New York and earning a 15-10 victory over the Bandits back in December. The Bandits have now matched that earlier defeat and now are back at the top of the division, where they envisioned themselves all season long.
“Every game is tough, especially in our division,” Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc said after the game. “Any time you can get a win against anyone in the division, it’s huge. I think we came out and really shared the ball and got a lot of guys going early.”
Buffalo will enjoy this win for a week, but the rubber match of the season between these two teams awaits next week as the Bandits and Thunderbirds will face off again next Sunday afternoon in Nova Scotia. Faceoff is at 2 p.m. at Scotiabank Centre.
The star performer in the win for Buffalo on Saturday was Josh Byrne. The team’s leading goal scorer coming into the contest, Byrne added four more goals to his team-high total against Halifax, as well as three assists in a game-high seven-point performance.
Corey Small had a six-point night with a game-high five assists (1+5), while newcomer Dan Lintner impressed in his Bandit debut with two goals and two assists. Lintner was added in a trade with Rochester earlier in the week.
Lintner helped seal the win for Buffalo with two fourth quarter goals as part of a 3-0 Buffalo run after Halifax came back from a 9-2 deficit to cut the Bandit lead to two at 10-8 with 9:52 to go. Considering how little time Lintner had to get acclimated to his new teammates and new surroundings, it was an extraordinary debut for the 27-year old from Courtice, ON.
“It was a pretty crazy week, to be honest,” Lintner said. “It’s a great place to be traded to, obviously. Everyone in the room here, the players, the coaching staff, they welcomed me with open arms. It was pretty cool memory here tonight.”
Bandits head coach John Tavares couldn’t help but be impressed with the performance from Lintner just two days after coming over to the team.
“It’s a big reason why we traded for him,” Tavares said. “He not only got a couple of goals for us, but I thought he had a lot of hustle plays. [He] got a lot of loose balls. He’s always moving and helping his teammates get open. Even if he didn’t score those goals, I thought he still had a good performance.”
Tavares believes the culture of the Bandits organization is a big boost to any new player coming to
Buffalo and plays a big role in helping them succeed in a new spot.
“Buffalo is a great place to play,” Tavares said. “Maybe I’m a little biased. Being traded to Buffalo, where we have a great crowd and a pretty good team, I think you’d be excited to be here and try to fit in right away like [Lintner] did. If I were [Lintner], I’d be super excited.”
While a strong fourth quarter performance helped put the game away for the Bandits, it was a hot start that put them in position to knock off their division foes. The Bandits jumped out to a 6-0 lead before 30 seconds had expired in the second quarter. It was the first time ever that the Bandits scored the first six goals to open a game.
The Bandits began the scoring barrage on the power play early in the first quarter as Byrne delivered with a power play goal at 2:32, ripping a shot from the center of the Halifax zone past Warren Hill. Just one minute later, Byrne scored from nearly the same exact spot to give the Bandits a 2-0 lead. Newly acquired Frank Brown, who came over from Rochester in the same trade as Lintner, had an assist on the goal for his first point as a Bandit.
With 6:21 left in the quarter, Buffalo expanded the lead to 3-0 as Chris Cloutier, despite being hounded by a Halifax defender who had a stick in his face, ripped a shot past Hill and into the net.
With 4:47 left in the quarter, Halifax’s Ryan Benesch was called for a five-minute high sticking penalty, while Justin Martin also went to the box for a two-minute roughing penalty. Immediately off the faceoff, Chase Fraser blew a shot by Hill to give Buffalo a 4-0 lead.
After Martin’s penalty expired, Buffalo had a three-minute man advantage and quickly used it to their advantage to add to the lead. Byrne threw a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Cloutier beside the Halifax crease. As he fell into the crease, he got away a shot that beat Hill and made the score 5-0. On the goal, the second of the game for Cloutier, Lintner picked up his first point as a Bandit with an assist.
It didn’t take long for the Bandits to increase the lead to 6-0 early in the second period. In transition, Mitch de Snoo beat Hill just 25 seconds into the quarter. It was then that Thunderbirds’ coach and former Bandits star Mike Accursi decided to make a change and pulled Hill in favor of backup Pete Dubenski.
Halifax responded right away as they finally got on the board just eight seconds later to stop the Buffalo scoring run as Scott Campbell ripped a shot by Matt Vinc. The Bandits got the goal back 43 seconds later as Small fed Byrne in front of the net for an easy goal to complete the hat trick.
After the goal, Byrne was cross-checked in the back by Brandon Robinson. Fraser took exception and was immediately challenged to a fight by Robinson. Fraser took Robinson to the ground in the ensuing scrum, much to the delight of the KeyBank Center crowd.
For his actions in the fracas, Robinson earned an instigator penalty and a game misconduct, resulting in his ejection and an early trip to the showers. The Buffalo crowd stood and applauded as Robinson walked off to the dressing room, launching his helmet down the hallway in frustration. Meanwhile, Fraser stood up and exalted the crowd on from the penalty box. They responded with another loud ovation.
Just under three minutes later, Austin Shanks beat Vinc to make the score 7-2.
No goals were scored until 1:07 remained in the half. Buffalo expanded its lead to 8-2 as Fraser picked up a rebound, waited until Dubenski was out of position, and put a shot over him into the top part of the net as Dubenski was down on the ground.
The eight goals in the first half bested the six Buffalo had all game against Philadelphia in their last outing two weeks ago. After struggling for a couple of games, the Buffalo offense broke out in a big way, which is what Tavares had been waiting for.
“I thought it was a pretty good offensive performance in the first half,” Tavares said. “We were just looking for everybody to chip in a little bit more, and I thought that’s what we did tonight. That was the big difference between tonight and the last game [against Philadelphia].
Byrne echoed the thoughts of his head coach and thought the offense got back to where the team wants it to be in the first half on Saturday.
“You know, the last couple of games, we haven’t really been playing the way we want to in terms of moving the ball and moving our feet,” Byrne said. “We knew that if we came out and really focused on sharing the ball, moving our feet, cutting to the middle, and doing the right things, we were going to have success.”
Before the half ended, another scrum broke out with just 1.7 seconds left as Halifax’s Stephen Keogh laid a big hit on de Snoo. Martin took exception and a line brawl briefly ensued. Keogh and Martin were each given four-minute roughing penalties.
As the third quarter began, Byrne ripped his fourth goal of the night past Dubenski to start the scoring in the second half and give Buffalo a 9-2 lead, their largest lead of the night.
After the game, Byrne said that he felt he needed to take what the defense gave him and play the game the right way in order to fill the hole in the offense left vacated by the absence of Dhane Smith, who missed his second-straight game with an injury on Saturday. Byrne felt a lot better about how he played in Smith’s absence on Saturday as opposed to the last game against Philadelphia.
“I tried to be a little more selfish and play with the ball,” Byrne said. “It ended up working out.”
Soon after Buffalo built its seven-goal lead, the Thunderbirds began to climb their way back into the contest. Shanks scored his second of the night for Halifax on the power play with 8:56 left in the quarter as he beat Vinc short side. Shanks found the back of the net again 1:30 later to complete his hat trick and bring the Thunderbirds to within five.
On a delayed penalty, Halifax got to within four at 9-5 at Keogh beat Vinc as he was falling to the turf with 4:26 left in the quarter. Ian MacKay then went to the box as he was called for a five-minute high sticking penalty. The Bandits got a much-needed shorthanded goal from Fraser as Vinc hit him with a long lead pass and he beat Dubenski on a breakaway. The goal was Fraser’s third of the night.
The Buffalo penalty kill then dug in and held Halifax off the scoreboard for the remainder of the period, killing off the entirety of the five-minute major.
“Every single one of our [defensemen] were selling out,” Byrne said. “So many tipped shots were happening. [Vinc] was playing out of his head. When everything’s going your way, you kinda feel that. When you kill off a five minute [penalty], that really hurts their momentum.”
The Thunderbirds did get a goal back to open the fourth quarter as Cody Jamieson scored his first of the night to make it 10-6. Halifax then cut the lead to three with 11:50 to go as Shanks scored his fourth of the night on a wide-open shot from the slot.
The trouble continued with 10:12 to play as Matt Spanger was called for holding. Halifax took advantage just 20 seconds later as Benesch scored his lone goal of the night to make it 10-8.
“We knew they were going to go on a run,” Byrne said. “We just had to hold them to as little as possible. The best thing is that we rallied around each other and we came out with the win.”
Buffalo answered with a big goal 22 seconds later as Nick Weiss got out in transition with Small on a 2-on-1. Weiss fed Small, who had just sprinted off the bench. Small buried his shot to stop the Halifax scoring run and give Buffalo a 11-8 lead.
With 4:39 to play, Lintner secured the win for Buffalo with his first goal as a Bandit, taking a pass from Garrett Billings outside the zone and diving through the air as he let a shot go that beat Dubenski in tight to make it 12-8. It was one of four assists on the night for Billings.
For a little insurance, Lintner ripped his second goal of the game by Dubenski with 3:05 to play, making the score 13-8.
The two goals came as a sigh of relief for Lintner after he overcame what he described as “a little bit of jitters” to make a big impact in his first game with Buffalo.
“I think I was maybe gripping the stick a little tight,” Lintner said. “I was just happy to be able to contribute out there.”
Jamieson scored his second of the game with 1:20 to play to make the score 13-9.
Vinc stopped 52 of 61 shots on goal to earn the win in net for Buffalo. Vinc’s performance in net helped to shut Halifax out during Buffalo’s 5-0 first quarter and hold the Thunderbirds to just two goals in the first half.
It’s the second game in a row he has held an opponent under 10 goals for the game. Vinc feels his play has improved steadily as the season has gone along and he credited the performance of the Buffalo defense as a whole with helping him feel more confident in net in recent games.
“Even though we won tonight, I want to get better,” Vinc said. “I think our defense is really tightening in and it’s allowing me to feel a lot more comfortable. You saw it today. They had a lot of shots, but they were shots we felt pretty confident with.”
The Bandit victory came on Tucker Out Lymphoma Night, honoring the memory of the son of former Bandit Shawn Williams, Tucker. He passed away from Burkitt lymphoma in 2014. Ever since, the Bandits have held Tucker Out Lymphoma Night to honor his memory and raise awareness for lymphoma.
Both the Bandits and Thunderbirds wore special jerseys for the game, which were designed by Tucker Williams’ brother, Dyson. A special game ball with the Tucker Out Lymphoma logo was also used.
Before the game, Dylana Williams, Tucker’s sister, sang the Canadian national anthem. Dhane Smith then presented the Williams’ family with a pair of autographed sneakers, while Bandits captain Steve Priolo took part in a ceremonial faceoff featuring the game ball. All the Bandits and Thunderbirds’ players posed for a picture at the faceoff circle.
Byrne believes the emotion of the Tucker Out Lymphoma ceremony helped sparked Buffalo on its scoring run early in the game.
“We had a good talk at the beginning about Tucker and what this game really meant,” Byrne said. “It really hit home. I think you saw that energy come out of us at the beginning.”
Lintner wore no. 51 in his Bandit debut, the same number Shawn Williams wore during his Bandit career. That helped make the night extra special for Lintner in his debut performance.
“It was a little bit more emotional with it being Tucker’s night here,” Lintner said. “It was extra special to wear 51, too. It was pretty awesome to get a win in that.”