The Buffalo Bandits clawed back, but couldn't keep the Vancouver Stealth from earning their first win of the season.
Minutes after Mitch Jones scored an unlikely equalizer with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Joel McCready beat Bandits goalie Alex Buque with a shot to the right side to give the Stealth an 11-10 overtime victory and quiet the announced crowd of 12,610.
"It happened quick," Jones said. "It comes down to a game of inches. It's a cliche, but they got that last inch."
The odds were against the Bandits, who haven't won a home overtime game since 2011. For the Stealth, the win ends a four-game slide and helps ease the pain of an ugly blowout last week. Vancouver gave up 17 goals in the first half to the Toronto Rock last Saturday in a 24-7 defeat.
"We've talked about this team being hungry after being embarrassed at home," Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. "They're fighting for their dignity."
Vancouver has struggled offensively this season, coming into the game tied for last in the league in goals. A big factor in the down numbers is the lack of production from the Stealth's leading goal scorers last season, Corey Small and Rhys Duch. Combined, the pair had three goals through four games.
Small particularly found his game Saturday, notching four goals and four assists. Duch had two goals and two assists and Logan Schuss, the Stealth's leading scorer, had three goals and five assists.
Dhane Smith (two goals, two assists) and Callum Crawford (one goal, three assists) paced the offense for Buffalo.
The Bandits got out to a 3-0 lead early, shutting out the Stealth in the first quarter. It appeared Vancouver was in for another long night, but a pair of penalties set the Stealth up for a comeback. Corey Small scored a natural hat trick, with the first goal coming on a 5-on-3 and the second on a power play.
"We talked about how lethal their shooters are, and when you play 5-on-4, 5-on-3 or 3-on-4, it's an advantage for them," Cordingley said. "They're not going to not score. Our discipline at times, our penalties that we took, they cost us."
Duch and Schuss completed the five-goal run for the Stealth, who took a 5-3 lead with 6:36 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
"We still are battling the consistency side of things," Cordingley said. "We do have a phenomenal first quarter and the ball is swinging real well. Guys are driving through. We get opportunities, and then we stopped doing that. I think the defense played the whole entire second quarter."
The Bandits were never able to reclaim the lead but did tie the game on three occasions. Kevin Brownell scored a pair in transition at the end of the second to tie the game 5-5 heading into halftime.
Vaughn Harris, activated from Buffalo's practice roster Saturday, also scored back-to-back to equalize. He notched the first two goals of his career early in the third quarter to make it 7-7.
The final tying goal was a testament to strong defense by the Bandits. Vancouver had the ball with 30 seconds remaining, but a successful ride by Buffalo forced a turnover and created an odd-man rush. Jones cut to the net uncovered from the right side to beat Vancouver goalie Eric Penney.
"A positive thing about this is that we found a way to get it to overtime," Cordingley said. "We did struggle. We weren't as good of a team as we were last week, but we found a way to get there. We just couldn't finish the job."
Penney, activated from the practice roster Saturday, made 52 saves on 62 shots in his first National Lacrosse League action of the season.
Bandits defenseman Matthew Bennett left the game with an injury with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter. He had to be helped off by a pair of trainers and did not return to the game. Cordingley said he'll get an MRI on Monday, but it doesn't sound good for the four-year Bandit.
After a two-game homestand, the Bandits are heading back on the road. Buffalo travels to Saskatchewan to play the Rush next Friday, the first long road trip of the season. The Bandits will play two additional games away from KeyBank Center after that, at the Rochester Knighthawks on Feb. 3 and at the New England Black Wolves on Feb. 9.
"If we want to be a good team, we're going to have to go on the road and beat good teams," Jones said.