Break up the Blizzard?
Buffalo ran its second-half-of-the-season win streak to a season-high three games Friday with a smashing victory over the team with the best record in the National Professional Soccer League.
The 23-17 run-and-gun win over the American Conference-leading Baltimore Blast (15-7) came in sharp contrast to the 15-6 beating Baltimore handed the travel-weary Blizzard in their previous meeting here on Jan. 21.
Buffalo forward Doug Miller kept the HSBC Arena crowd of 3,683 on its feet with a seven-goal performance that helped produce the Blizzard's highest tally of the season. It was Miller's most productive game since his club-record eight-goal night against Wichita here on Dec. 26, 2000.
Buffalo goalkeeper Bryan Finnerty made 21 saves, including nine in the third quarter, when Baltimore caught Buffalo back on its heels and dominated play for about the first 10 minutes.
"When they come, they come in bunches," Miller said of his 12-point night (five two-pointers and two one-pointers).
"We were playing with a little more confidence and guys were going both ways," said Miller. "It was a team effort. We killed all three penalty kills, and then to get the one after the penalty kill shows you what kind of effort the guys were putting in going up and down the field."
Miller was referring to his sixth goal, a running right-footer on a breakaway which made it 21-12 at 11:02 of the fourth quarter. It came right after the Blizzard killed off the Blast's third power play.
Finnerty, who was the NPSL's defensive player of the week last week, said his third-quarter performance "hopefully . . . motivated everybody and they stepped it up at the end of the third and in the fourth (quarters).
"The more wins you get, it's like an extra cup of coffee without having to drink it. . . . Everybody's got pep in their step," Finnerty said. "We kept running and that's half the battle. We were winning tackles and keeping going at them."
Buffalo improves to 10-13 and moves within a half-game of the idle Cleveland Crunch (10-12) in the battle for the fourth and last American Conference playoff spot. Buffalo hosts Toronto Sunday and plays at Cleveland Tuesday morning.
"It was a pretty good performance," said Buffalo coach Paul Kitson. "Especially against a team that came in here two weeks ago and completely dominated us."
Jim Hesch (two goals) Matt Caution, Andrew Crawford, Danny Barber and Steve Butcher also scored for Buffalo. Caution opened the scoring at 3:12 and the teams alternated goals through the first period. Caution, Tarik Walker and Hesch scored three goals in 49 seconds. Then Baltimore's Ronnie Simmons walloped a three-pointer from about 55 feet to give the Blast a 5-4 advantage before Crawford's one-point shootout tied it at 5-5.
Miller volleyed in a ball that Crawford shot off the glass over the goal to give the Blizzard a 7-5 lead early in the second quarter and started a string of five unanswered goals - including three by Miller about six minutes - that allowed the Blizzard to take a 13-9 lead to the dressing room.
Miller's second and third goals were one-point shootouts against Blast rookie goalkeeper Josh Campbell, who had beaten the Blizzard in his first NPSL start on Jan. 21.
The string also included a restart goal by Hesch and a power-play goal by Barber, who smacked a rolling ball into the net from about 28 feet.
Paul Wright's restart score from about 30 feet out in the slot ended Buffalo's 8-0 run at 11:37.
Baltimore dominated the early part of third quarter, outshooting Buffalo 11-0 before the 12th shot turned into Mark Thomas' goal, scored seconds after the Blizzard killed a power play, which made it 11-9 at 8:12.
The Blizzard dominated the fourth quarter, opening a 21-12 lead before the Blast pulled its goalkeeper.