Maybe rest is overrated.
The Buffalo Bandits made the most of a hectic 24 hours by beating the Rochester Knighthawks, 18-13, Saturday night before 13,722 at HSBC Arena. It capped a perfect weekend that began with Friday night's 13-11 win at Minnesota. As a result, the Bandits (7-4) stand alone atop the National Lacrosse League's East Division.
Mark Steenhuis tied the Bandits franchise record for goals in a game with seven, including scores on his first six shots.
"I felt I owed it to the guys on the team because I hadn't been playing up to my potential," said Steenhuis, who matched NLL career scoring leader John Tavares and head coach Darris Kilgour as Buffalo's seven-goal scorers.
Since burning the defending champion Toronto Rock for five goals and four assists Jan. 13 in the opener, Steenhuis had scored more than twice in a game just once. And he'd been held to four total points the last three games.
"For the last five games it seemed like every time he had a good opportunity, he'd hit a post or hit a butt end," Kilgour said. "You keep working and good things happen. It took a few games for the worm to turn, but it finally did for him."
Steenhuis scored the first three goals of the third quarter for the Bandits, who had taken a 9-4 halftime lead. Two came with Buffalo playing short-handed and the Bandits eventually increased their lead to as much as 16-7.
Nearly as important as Steenhuis' contribution was what Rochester's John Grant Jr. didn't do. The league's scoring leader was held to just three assists. It was only the third time in 91 career games, covering seven seasons, that he didn't score a goal.
"We've done many different things against Grant over the years, we've boxed-and-oned him, tried to shut him off, tried to match little guys on him to pester him," said Kilgour. "The only thing we hadn't tried is to put someone about the same size on him and it really seemed to work."
Enter 6-foot-3, 260-pound Bandits defenseman Troy Bonterre, who dressed for just the third time this season to match up against Grant, who is 6-2, 230.
Bonterre used his massive body to keep Grant from developing any rhythm in Buffalo's end.
"He gets frustrated pretty easy and once he does, he just starts taking dumb shots," Bonterre said. "To get him out of his game I was just supposed to knock him around as much as I could. He's a bigger guy and it's easier for me to guard and bang on bigger guys."
It was just the second time in the 12-year history of the series that the Bandits had beaten the Knighthawks by as many as five goals. The first was by 14-9 in Rochester on Feb. 10, 1996, during Rochester's second season. Though the Bandits have defeated Rochester four straight times at home during the regular season, Rochester still leads the series, 17-11.
The Knighthawks, who lost their third straight, fell to 7-6 and are a full game behind the Bandits, who have won three in a row. The Knighthawks are tied for second with the Rock, while the Philadelphia Wings and Minnesota Swarm are both 6-6. The top four teams make the playoffs. While the Bandits were winning twice this weekend, every other team in the East lost. The Bandits also took the season series, 2-1, from the Knighthawks and now own tie-breaker advantages over them, the Rock and the Swarm.
The Bandits endured a brutal travel schedule. After playing in the Twin Cities, they answered a 4:45 a.m. wake-up call for a 7 a.m. flight that included a stopover in Chicago. It was just before noon by the time they got back to Buffalo, barely enough time for a quick nap before reporting to get ready for Saturday's 7:30 p.m. faceoff.
"All of us were pretty miserable [tired] but we knew we were playing for first place," said Bandits defenseman Kyle Couling. "We jumped on them early and never did let up."
Rochester had a 58-33 edge in shots and Bandits goalie Steve Dietrich made 33 saves before taking the fourth quarter off. But Rochester's Pat O'Toole, who ranks second with 11 career wins over the Bandits, had a miserable night. He stopped just nine of 21 shots and was pulled for Grant Crawley with Buffalo up, 12-5, midway through the third.
Next up for the Bandits is a trip West to face the San Jose Stealth on Friday night and the Arizona Sting on Saturday.