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Bandits-Wings rosters / B7

On the whole, they'd rather be in Philadelphia.

But the defending Major Indoor Lacrosse League champion Philadelphia Wings are in Buffalo instead, where they face the Bandits at 8 tonight in a semifinal playoff game at Memorial Auditorium. Leaving the Keystone State for the first round of the playoffs hasn't diminished the red-hot Wings' confidence one bit.

"If we play the way we're capable of, things will go well and it doesn't really matter where we have to play the game," Wings coach Tony Resch said. "We've not had great success in Buffalo over the years but it's a fun place to go in and try to win. We'd rather be at home, but that's out of our control at this point. Our guys are just focused in on winning."

Had the Wings been any less focused in winning their regular season finale against the Baltimore Thunder on March 11, they would be playing at home this weekend. But by beating the Thunder, 15-12, that night, first-place Philadelphia (7-1) opened the door for the Bandits (3-5) to grab the league's fourth and final playoff spot.

Because the MILL schedules playoff game sites based on paid attendance during the regular season, the Wings were forced to pack their bags and shuffle off to Buffalo rather than stay home and play the Thunder, who would have been in the playoffs instead of Buffalo had Baltimore won in Philadelphia on March 11.

"That whole situation made for a lot of distractions the week before the (Baltimore) game," said Resch, who coached the Wings to the MILL title last season -- his first as head coach. "But we treated that game as our first step in the playoffs. We planned on coming to Buffalo all along because we knew the situation with the attendance beforehand."

Philadelphia's victory gave sudden life to the Bandits, whose playoff chances were in limbo for a week after their regular season ended with a tough 12-11 loss to Rochester on March 5.

"My birthday is March 11 and that was certainly a great birthday present," Bandits coach Les Bartley said. "Our guys realize that despite the records, we're contenders."

"We want to thank Philadelphia for winning and getting us in," Bandits forward Derek Laub said. "Realistically, I think we're the only team in the league that has a chance to knock them off in the playoffs."

It won't be easy. The Wings have won seven straight since dropping a 17-13 decision to the Bandits on opening night. They led the league in scoring with 14.4 goals per game and allowed only 11.8 goals per game, surrendering only three more scores than league-leading Boston yielded.

Wings forward Gary Gait led the MILL in scoring with 48 points on 30 goals and 18 assists, displacing the Bandits' John Tavares, who had won the scoring title the previous two seasons. Tavares was second with 45 points on 24 goals and 21 assists.

Included in the Wings' seven-game winning streak was a 17-10 victory over the Bandits at the Spectrum, where the Wings have won 14 straight over the past three seasons.

The winner of tonight's game will host the MILL championship game at 1 p.m. April 8, against the winner of Sunday afternoon's second semifinal matchup -- Boston (5-3) at Rochester (4-4).

"Philadelphia is a darn good team and we know it," Bandits goaltender Ross Cowie said. "I wouldn't use the word 'scared,' but we sure have a healthy respect for them. But I've also got great respect for my teammates and what they can do on the field."

"I've heard some people say we don't deserve to be here, but that's bull if you ask me," Bandits forward Troy Cordingley said. "We earned our way into the playoffs. Now we're here and we're going to keep working. But Philadelphia is the best team right now. We know we had the fourth-best record and our record against the teams left (in the playoffs) was 1-5. But we're going to give them a go."

According to the MILL, several thousand tickets remain for tonight's game. They can be purchased at the ticket office in the Terrace Street lobby at the Aud, starting at 9 a.m. today, or through Ticketmaster.

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