Without last season's National Lacrosse League Most Valuable Player, the Buffalo Bandits weren't quite good enough Saturday night to beat last season's best in the National Lacrosse League West.
The Bandits held out goaltender Steve Dietrich, who underwent an arthroscopic clean-up procedure on his knee several weeks ago, and fell, 11-10, in overtime against the Portland LumberJax at the Rose Garden.
Scott Stapleford scored against Mike Thompson on Portland's first possession of overtime, capping a three-goal rally for the LumberJax who, like the Bandits, finished 11-5 last season.
Buffalo also played without star midfielder Mark Steenhuis and veteran defenseman Billy Dee Smith, who were serving one-game suspensions incurred in last season's Champion's Cup game loss to Colorado.
Thompson was rock solid with 40 saves in his Bandits debut. His strong play in the second half allowed the Bandits to rally from a four-goal deficit.
"He had some rough spots in the early going but really settled down nicely," Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. "Our defense also stepped up and helped him and that allowed us to get right back in it."
After Portland had bolted to an 8-4 lead, Thompson kept the Jax off the scoreboard for 27 minutes, 35 seconds and the Bandits scored six straight to go up, 10-8.
Pat McCready gave Buffalo its first lead at 9-8 on a breakaway set up by defenseman Kyle Laverty, just 1:22 into the fourth quarter. Then Roger Vyse's power-play score with 4:20 left made it a two-goal cushion.
But Jed Prossner scored twice, the second time with 1:12 left in regulation, to send the opener into overtime.
After Portland's Dallas Eliuk made a save on John Tavares on the first possession of OT, Eliuk was pulled for an extra attacker and Stapleford netted the winner.
The 42-year-old Eliuk made 46 saves to record his 14th victory in 26 career decisions against the Bandits.
"He definitely won them that game," said Kilgour. "We could have shot a little better but several times guys went one-on-one against Dallas and he stoned them. It's getting tougher and tougher for me to watch."
Thompson, who is 12 years younger than Eliuk, was every bit as impressive.
"Thompson's been the best player on Akwesasne [of the summer Ontario Lacrosse Association] the last few years," said Tavares, the NLL's career scoring leader who had two goals and five assists. "We were at the bottom of the league but Mike kept us in all the games. Can he take over Chugger's [Dietrich's] spot some day? Yeah."
Jason Crosbie was Buffalo's only other multigoal scorer with two. Former Bandit Ryan Powell had two goals and four assists for Portland.
Dietrich, Steenhuis and Smith are all expected to be back in the lineup when the Bandits play their home opener against the expansion New York Titans Jan. 12 at HSBC Arena.
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Kevin Dostie's Buffalo debut produced a goal, an assist and 11 loose balls, second only to McCready's 15. . . . The Bandits, who have finished last in faceoffs the last three seasons, won 16 of 26, thanks to Cory Bomberry, who took 11 of 16. . . . Buffalo is now 10-6 on opening night and 9-7 in the first road game. But it was the first time the Bandits lost an opener that was played away from home in seven attempts. They've opened at home nine times. . . . The Bandits continue to struggle in overtime. They're now 10-11 all-time in OT and have lost six of their last seven (all of those on the road).