For the first time in their four-year Major Indoor Lacrosse League history, there will be no championship game appearance for the Buffalo Bandits.
The defending champion Philadelphia Wings (8-1) defeated the Bandits, 19-16, Saturday night before a crowd of 10,557 in Memorial Auditorium in the MILL semifinals.
But Buffalo didn't go down without a spirited fight.
Down by as many as seven goals late in the first half, the Bandits dominated most of the second half and actually tied the game early in the fourth quarter before one final Wings' spurt decided it.
"They came back like the world champions they are and you've got to give them all the credit in the world," said Bandits forward Troy Cordingley, who had a team-high three goals and added two assists. "They called on their playoff experience in the late going and we just didn't have the answers when we needed them most."
MILL most valuable player Gary Gait spearheaded Philadelphia's fourth-quarter resurgence and finished with six goals and three assists. The Wings also got a big boost from All-Pro goaltender Dallas Eliuk, who made 42 saves -- including an incredible 21 in the first quarter alone.
"We didn't play well early on and Dallas kept us in it," said Gait. "But he didn't just have a good first quarter, he played well all night long. We're used to that kind of effort from him. We knew we would settle down eventually and things would be OK."
The Wings, who have won eight straight games since a season-opening 17-13 loss to the Bandits at the Aud, will host the championship game at 1 p.m. April 8 in the Spectrum against the winner of today's semifinal between Boston and Rochester. That game starts at 1 p.m. in a sold-out War Memorial. Philadelphia has won 14 straight home games over the past three seasons.
The Bandits finished 3-6.
Buffalo had its second-smallest home crowd in team history in a frenzy early in the fourth quarter when Brian Hall beat Eliuk with a behind-the-neck shot to tie the game at 12-12.
But the Wings buckled down, scoring the game's next four goals, including two on the power play, to go ahead, 16-12, with 6:01 remaining. Gait had a goal and an assist in that flurry.
"Playing against him is like playing any other player in the league, only he happens to be a damn good one," Bandits head coach Les Bartley said. "When you get a little tired, he seems to step it up and do the most damage. He did again tonight."
Buffalo crept within 16-14, with 5:08 remaining, on goals by John Tavares and Cordingley, but the Wings scored two goals as a result of the same play to go ahead, 18-14, with 4:08 left.
Steve Govett scored off a breakaway to make it a 17-14 game, and on the ensuing goal-mouth fracas, the teams were called for five penalties -- three on Buffalo and two on Philadelphia. In the MILL, a team is awarded a penalty shot when an opponent is called for three infractions during the same penalty period. Gait beat goalie Bill Gerrie on the penalty shot to make it 18-14.
Buffalo scored two of the game's final three goals, but the Wings were content to run the 30-second shot clock rather than press for scoring opportunities in the final minutes.
The Bandits dominated the first quarter, outshooting the Wings, 24-11, but had only a 3-3 tie to show for it after 15 minutes.
Philadelphia responded with an 8-2 burst in the second quarter to take an 11-5 edge, but the Bandits came back to dominate the third quarter and trailed just 12-11 entering the final 15 minutes.
"This game was exactly like our season," Bartley said. "We played with excellence and we played poorly at times. We were penalty-free for a while then we took bad penalties. It just wraps up where we've been all year long."