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VICTORY IN CALGARY ASSURES BANDITS OF HOME PLAYOFF GAME

It didn't mean quite as much as it would have last May but beating the champions Saturday night was still plenty important to the Buffalo Bandits.

A dominating second half gave the Bandits a 14-9 triumph over defending kingpin Calgary before 10,183 in the Pengrowth Saddledome -- site of the Roughnecks' 14-11 victory over the Bandits in last season's National Lacrosse League Champion's Cup final.

"We were talking in the locker room afterward and saying that this doesn't even feel that good because it just affirms that we should have won the championship here last year," said Bandits goaltender Steve Dietrich, who made 43 saves. "But we're happy we were able to give our fans at home a playoff game because they really deserve it."

The second-place Bandits (10-5) will host the third-place Rochester Knighthawks (9-6) at 8 p.m. on April 23 in HSBC Arena in the first round. It will be the Bandits' first home playoff game since 2003 and the team is 8-4 at home in its 14-year history during postseason.

The winner moves on to Toronto to meet the East Division champion Rock (12-3) on April 29 in the Air Canada Centre. The Bandits have won three of their last four games in Toronto, including last season's East final by a whopping 19-10 score.

Against the Roughnecks, the Bandits fell into an early 5-1 hole but scored 13 of the game's final 17 goals to run away. Mark Steenhuis' goal with 5:32 left in the third quarter put the Bandits ahead for good at 8-7.

"(Calgary goaltender Curtis) Palidwor played very well early but we knew that with our style we'd come back on them," said Steenhuis, who had three goals along with teammate A.J. Shannon. "He's a good goaltender but we were putting a lot of shots into his stick. We got a bit of fun out of coming back on them, given what happened here last year.

"But it's more satisfying that we have a home playoff game. We didn't want to leave anything to the last second because we know that can be fatal."

The Bandits scored the first five goals of the fourth quarter, by five different players, to take a 14-8 advantage. They even chased Palidwor, the Most Valuable Player of last year's title game, during that run.

"The defense was just great in front of me," said Dietrich. "We pressured the ball a lot more in the second half and sucked them into the middle. If they were going to beat us it was going to be from 40 feet away and they couldn't do it."

The Bandits limited Tracey Kelusky (who has 67 points this season) to a goal and an assist and Kaleb Toth (66 points) to a single assist. John Tavares had a goal and three assists for the Bandits and Jason Crosbie and Jon Harasym both scored twice.

The Bandits host the San Jose Stealth (4-11) in the regular season finale at 8 p.m. Saturday in HSBC Arena. The game has no effect on the playoff picture.

PLAYOFFS AT A GLANCE
Saturday, April 23
Rochester (9-6) at Buffalo (10-5), 8:00
West #3 at West #2, 8:00
Friday, April 29
Roch/Buff winner at Toronto (11-3), 7:30
West 2-3 at West #1, TBA
Saturday, May 14
Championship, Ch. 2, 3:30

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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