TORONTO - The Buffalo Bandits' playoff hopes looked all but extinguished 20 minutes into their game against the Toronto Rock on Friday night. They trailed by a 6-1 score early in the second quarter, and the offense looked dismal.
Then somebody threw the switch.
It might have been any member of the Bandits' defense, which turned into a dominating unit. It might have been Anthony Malcom, who came off the injured list to score three huge goals.
The Bandits scored nine straight goals to change the entire complexion of the contest. They went on to a crucial 13-8 win over the Rock in the Air Canada Centre.
"We needed this big time," goalie Anthony Cosmo said. "I thought we played incredible. The guys really stepped up."
After the slow start, the game bogged down rather significantly in the second quarter. The teams went more than nine minutes without scoring, and the effect was that the Bandits were settling down.
"I thought in the second quarter we had the better chances," coach Troy Cordingley said. "They had scored a couple of fast-break goals, but our guys were responsible out there. They were dictating where the shots were falling. I thought the second quarter turned the game in our favor."
Malcom was a big part of the story. He finally got the Bandits on the scoreboard after an empty opening period. He added a goal with 40 seconds left in the half to make it a 6-3 lead.
A three-goal margin isn't that much with a half to play. Ryan Benesch and Dhane Smith helped the Bandits creep within one. Then Malcom scored what might be the goal of the year. With Buffalo down two men, he powered through the crease - bowling over a couple of defenders in the process - to score a huge tying goal.
"I decided to go to the net and maybe draw a penalty," Malcom said. "I split the defense and got a good shot on goal."
It's been a disappointing season for the second-year player. Malcom missed almost two months of play earlier in the season. He showed why the Bandits have big hopes for him in the future.
"Tony is a hell of an athlete," Benesch said. "He's got great speed and he drives to the net hard. It's great to see him get a couple of nice goals like that."
The rest of the offense then followed along. Blaze Riorden got the go-ahead goal, Benesch and Mark Steenhuis (twice) followed with scores, and the Bandits had turned a 6-1 deficit into a 10-6 lead.
Malcom didn't even know his team had scored nine goals in a row until he was told after the game. But he sure enjoyed the ride.
"It was a ton of fun," he said. "In the second half, we looked like we did last year."
Malcom added an assist, Blaze Riorden had a quiet five points, Dhane Smith had three goals and three others had a pair of scores.
Toronto did get a couple of goals in the final quarter, but the Rock never got closer than three goals down the stretch. Cosmo rarely had to move on shots in the second half, as he was usually in perfect position.
Certainly assistant coach Rich Kilgour would have enjoyed seeing the defensive performance in person. But he was back in Western New York, recovering from an accident, and isn't on the road trip.
"He fell off a ladder, and broke his shoulder and broke his foot on Wednesday morning," Cordingley said. "I think the guys rallied because they were missing their leader. I got an email from his wife around noon saying he was in the hospital."
The Bandits could only be eliminated from the playoff race with two losses this weekend. They have avoided that. Still, a loss in Part Two of the twin-bill would be close to fatal.
Buffalo headed to the Toronto airport after the game, and the team will catch a 6 a.m. plane to Georgia to play the Swarm. The Bandits will be tired, but they know what's at stake.
"It is a must win," Cosmo said. "This weekend we have to go 2-0, and now we have to beat an incredibly potent Georgia team."