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BANDITS RALLY, INCH CLOSER TO PLAYOFFS
SOUND FOURTH-QUARTER PERFORMANCE LEADS BUFFALO TO 11-9 WIN OVER KNIGHTHAWKS

One hard-nosed, decisive quarter of lacrosse was the proper cure for all the Buffalo Bandits' ills.

A two-game losing streak, the inability to beat a quality team at home, and years of frustration against their Western New York neighbors all vaporized with 15 minutes of cohesive aggression.

"Our whole thing was, 'Enough is enough,' " said coach Darris Kilgour, whose Bandits outscored the Rochester Knighthawks, 5-1, in the fourth quarter of an important 11-9 National Lacrosse League victory before 10,014 in HSBC Arena Friday night.

"We've been waiting for this all year," Kilgour said. "I told the boys they had to come out and they had to do it. There was going to be no more 'my bad' or 'my mistake.' Eliminate the mistake or you won't be playing. I think that message got across. I think our team will be all right now."

The second-place Bandits (9-5) moved a game ahead of the Knighthawks (8-6) in the East Division and can clinch a playoff spot with one win in their final two games or one loss by Philadelphia in the Wings' final four. If the first-place Toronto Rock (9-3) beats the Wings tonight, the Bandits' 11th postseason appearance in 14 seasons will be assured.

By winning a season series over the Knighthawks for the first time ever, the Bandits have all but locked up a home playoff game. Assuming the Bandits can't catch Toronto, one more Buffalo win or one more Rochester defeat means the Bandits' playoff run will begin at 8 p.m. on April 23 at home against the third-place team in the East -- likely the Knighthawks, who have dominated this series since their birth in 1995.

The Bandits' first home victory over a winning team since Feb. 6, 2004 didn't come easy. It was secured with a staunch defensive effort against one of the league's most potent scorers, a timely eruption by old reliable John Tavares, hustle after a key loose ball and a couple of huge saves down the stretch.

Buffalo trailed, 8-6, entering the fourth quarter, scored four straight, then held on for dear life.

With the Bandits up, 10-9, in the final minute, goalie Steve Dietrich came up huge twice.

Rochester's John Grant Jr., the league's second-leading scorer with 90 points in 13 games, tallied his second goal of the night with 46.4 seconds left to bring his team within 10-9.

The Knighthawks' Stephen Hoar won the ensuing faceoff, giving Rochester possession with goaltender Pat O'Toole pulled for an extra attacker. Grant's long shot was stopped by Dietrich and the Bandits took over.

On the restart, Rochester's Chris Schiller knocked the ball from Tavares' stick and recovered it. Schiller drove to the Buffalo goal but was stoned by Dietrich for the last of his 40 saves.

"There was a whistle and a slash, then the ball just popped out of my stick," said Tavares. "When the ball dropped down, Schiller picked it up and tried to score from behind the net. But Chugger (Dietrich) played amazing tonight and saved our butts the whole game."

The drama still wasn't over. Buffalo's Mark Steenhuis fired on the empty Rochester net but his shot clanked off the crossbar and bounced toward the Bandits bench, where it was scooped up by teammate Pat McCready.

"I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, we've had a few of these over the years,' " said McCready. "I remember A.J. (Shannon) in Rochester last year with a similar thing. He hits the post, they come back to tie and win in overtime. So it's nice that it took a favorable bounce and we got it back."

McCready fed the ball to Tavares, who hit Steenhuis. Without a second's hesitation, Steenhuis fired again at the empty goal and this time tickled the twine to sew it up with 11.4 seconds left.

"I was happy to get a second chance, it was unfortunate I messed up and hit the crossbar on the first one," Steenhuis said. "I thought, 'How did I miss something that easy?' But that's the way it goes. Luckily for me I got a second chance and it paid off."

Asked if he had any second thoughts about shooting for the second time, he smiled and said, "No way. It was going."

Steenhuis also was huge defensively. Assigned to shadow Grant, he helped limit Rochester's top gun to just three points.

"We tried to put Mark Steenhuis on him the whole night, just keep him right on him," said Bandits defenseman Clay Hill. "When the other guys matched up against him, we just tried to play honest defense against him."

Tavares, the league's leading scorer with 92 points, had been held to one assist through three quarters. But he beat O'Toole with a high shot 3 1/2 minutes into the fourth, then powered past Rochester's Regy Thorpe for the tying score 29 seconds later.

"I don't think anybody was necessarily waiting for Johnny to do it, but once he did do it, you just buy into it," Kilgour said. "When great players make great plays you can either follow them or get the hell out of the way. Tonight they decided to follow him."

From there, Shannon and Dan Teat provided the Bandits a two-goal cushion and Dietrich, who was dehydrated and spent about 20 minutes sprawled on the training room floor trying to recover after the game, made it stand up.
e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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