The Buffalo Bandits put together two big wins over the Halifax Thunderbirds this weekend to cement their place atop the NLL’s East Division.
Following a 16-11 win on Saturday in Buffalo, the Bandits won by the same score on Sunday at Scotiabank Place in Halifax.
Buffalo improved to 12-1 on the season while the Thunderbirds have now lost three in a row and at 8-5, are tied with Toronto for second in the East. The offensive prowess of Dhane Smith and masterful goaltending at the other end from Matt Vinc helped Buffalo to a victory on Sunday.
Smith scored five goals (tying Tehoka Nanticoke for the team-lead this season), including the 300th of his career to complete his hat trick in the third quarter.
Smith also dished out two assists, bringing his weekend point total to 16. He now leads the NLL with 98 points (33+65), and is on pace for 135 points, which is just shy of his career-high 137 points set in 2015-16.
Vinc’s 60 saves set a new single-game career-high and tied the franchise record set by Daniel Sams back in 2008.
Vinc, who leads the NLL with 12 wins, faced 136 shots over the two games, allowing just 22 goals for a .838 save percentage.
“Halifax has great shooters, and they know a lot of my tendencies, so it was a chess match,” Vinc said after the game on TSN. “I took it one shot at a time today, and I’m very happy with our offense scoring late to relieve some pressure off me.”
With an 8-4 lead coming out of the halftime break, Buffalo and Halifax exchanged goals until Matt Spanger and Chase Fraser scored midway through the third less than 50 seconds apart to make it a 13-7 game.
The Thunderbirds wouldn’t give up, though, netting four consecutive goals to cut the deficit to two before the Bandits capped off an additional three-goal run to seal the deal.
Fraser (4+1) and Josh Byrne (2+3) both finished with five points for Buffalo, along with solid performances from Connor Fields (1+3) and Chris Cloutier (1+2).
The transition game was crucial to the Bandits success yet again as Ian MacKay, Kevin Brownell, and Nick Weiss had two helpers each, with Weiss scoring the first goal of the game 27 seconds into regulation.
Halifax’s Warren Hill struggled early, allowing six goals in the first 16:28 of play which led to coach Mike Accursi switching goalies. Aaron Bold did not allow a goal in his first nine minutes in between the pipes, but finished with a .391 save percentage stopping 14 shots while letting in nine.
Offensively, the Thunderbirds were without Eric Fannell after he was put on the IR after his three points on Saturday. Leading the way was Clarke Petterson (3+1) who tied Cody Jamieson (1+3) for the team-high in points.
The Thunderbirds had two special teams goals, including a shorthanded strike from Brad Gillies, and Dawson Theede scored their first power-play goal of the weekend. Halifax went 1-for-5 on the man-advantage and 1-for-12 on the weekend, compared to Buffalo’s 4-for-6 on Sunday and 7-for-12 over the two games.
Sitting at 12-1 and riding a six-game win streak, Buffalo has a four-game cushion between Halifax and Toronto.
The Bandits will have a few days to rest before heading to the City of Brotherly Love for their second matchup with the Philadelphia Wings (6-7) before heading back west for a weekend tilt with the Colorado Mammoth (7-6).
Faceoff for this Thursday’s game at Wells Fargo Center is slated for 7:30 p.m., and Buffalo will then play their fourth game in eight days in Denver, starting at 9 p.m.