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Bandits need wins to avoid early playoff elimination

The Buffalo Bandits' playoff chances are slim headed into the weekend.

By late Saturday night, they could be at zero.

That sums up the team's situation as it plays two games in two nights against the two best teams in the National Lacrosse League's East Division. Buffalo will be in Toronto on Friday night to take on the Rock (7:30 p.m., Radio 550 AM). Then there's a flight to Georgia to play the Swarm on Saturday night.

"Luckily, we still have time to do something," Bandits forward Dhane Smith said.

But not much time. The Bandits come into the game at 5-8. If they lose games to Toronto (8-7) and Georgia (10-4) this weekend, their playoff hopes will come to a stunning end.

If they win one of the two, they would need to win both of their remaining games in the coming weeks and get plenty of help. If they win two, it could set up a scramble for the three postseason spots in the NLL East.

It's all quite a disappointment for a team that went to the league finals last season. Everyone around the team must be hearing the question, "What's gone wrong?" wherever they go.

"That's a tough question," Smith said. "We don't have the same team, but it's a similar team. I'm not sure what the reasons are. We think we can win every game. There's just something missing, so that it's not our year."

The Bandits come into the game having lost three straight and four of their last five. Buffalo turned in a less than inspired performance in the latest loss, a 13-8 defeat in Calgary in which the Bandits never threatened.

"It was one of those games," Smith said. "The team got outworked, and no bounces went our way."

Five things to know about tonight's Bandits-Rock game

Buffalo got off to another bad start against with the Roughnecks. The contest marked the fifth time that the Bandits have trailed, 8-2, in a game this season.

"That's never easy to come back from that," Smith said, realizing that his team is 0-5 in those games. "We have to not worry too much when we give up early goals, but it's hard not to do that when you fall behind. Obviously, we would fix it if we knew what was going wrong."

Perhaps the most disheartening comment about the Calgary loss came from Buffalo's Steve Priolo, who after the game said the Roughnecks had shoved the Bandits around and Buffalo didn't shove back. Smith noticed that too, and wasn't happy either.

"They came out as if it were a playoff game," he said. "We came out like our season was done. We are fighting for our lives, and we didn't show that."

One of the Bandits' problems in terms of the playoffs is that they already have lost the season series to New England (7-8) and Rochester (5-9). That means Buffalo has to pass them in order to finish ahead of them, making the task more difficult.

Buffalo lost close games to both the Black Wolves and the Knighthawks, defeats that are becoming more painful as the remaining games shrink.

"It's crazy - you look back at those games, and we should have won both of those games in Rochester," Smith said. "Those tiebreakers are huge."

Buffalo's opponents this weekend also have something at stake. A Toronto win on Friday combined with a loss by New England or Rochester Saturday would put the Rock in the playoffs. Georgia would clinch the NLL East title with a win Saturday or a Toronto loss Friday.

"Toronto is a great team, we always have a close matchup with them," Smith said. "We don't like each other. It will be a grind-out. We look forward to it, it's easy to get up against them.

"You're got to give Georgia credit. They've been rebuilding for a few years, but they've been putting up a lot of goals. A lot of teams haven't been able to stop them, so we need to do that and put up some goals ourselves."

No inspirational pep talks are needed this weekend. The Bandits have only been eliminated from the playoff race two games before the season's conclusion once in their history (1999).  If the losing continues, history will not be kind to this edition of the team.

"It's one of those things - we don't have to say much," Smith said.

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