The last time the Buffalo Bandits faced the Minnesota Swarm, last year's playoff run was nearly derailed before it began.
They weren't about to permit the same dramatics Saturday night.
The Bandits scored 20 times in the first three quarters of a surprisingly easy 22-13 victory over the Swarm before 12,882 in HSBC Arena. The result was a far cry from last April's 11-10 first-round playoff nail-biter that was Buffalo's first step on the march to a spot in the Champion's Cup final.
National Lacrosse League career scoring leader John Tavares finished with three goals and career bests of 10 assists and 13 points, reaching another milestone along the way. His third assist of the game, on a first-quarter goal by Delby Powless, allowed him to become the first to pile up 600 helpers. He has 560 goals, 607 assists and 1,167 points in 183 career games covering 16 seasons. Three players, including Portland LumberJax coach Derek Keenan, share the NLL record for points in a game with 14. Keenan did it with four goals and 10 assists as a Bandit against the Baltimore Thunder on March 13, 1992.
"It shows we're not selfish at all and that we have a lot of depth on offense," said the 38-year-old Tavares, who has been with the Bandits since the team was born for the 1992 sea
son. "We were shooting about 50 percent at one point [Buffalo finished at 37.9 percent], and that's incredible in the game of lacrosse. Usually, 20 or 25 percent is excellent."
Kevin Dostie scored four times, Mark Steenhuis and Dan Teat added three apiece and Mike Thompson made 34 saves as the Bandits improved to 2-2. Minnesota (1-2), which boasted the second-stingiest defense in the league last season when it never surrendered more than 15 in a game, hadn't been burned for as many scores since the Bandits hung a 23-16 whipping on the Swarm at HSBC Arena on March 11, 2005.
Thompson, who started his fourth straight game as reigning NLL Most Valuable Player Steve Dietrich continues to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery, may have made an even bigger contribution before the opening faceoff.
"The shaft on my stick was a little off, and Mike Thompson strung me up a new one," said Dostie, a first-year Bandit who had scored only twice in the first three games this season. "He's a wizard with sticks. Eventually, they were going to go in. I was getting my shots, getting enough chances. I'm glad they started going in."
Rookie Brett Bucktooth, the No. 3 overall pick in last September's NLL entry draft, also snapped a mini-skid. Bucktooth, who had just four assists coming in, got his first two goals. His first pro score came with 28.8 seconds left in the first quarter and was set up on a sweet pass from Tavares that presented Bucktooth with a wide-open net, just to the right of Minnesota goalie Matt Disher.
"Johnny made it so easy, I just had to lay it up," said Bucktooth, whose second goal came with 21.1 seconds left in the third quarter and put the Bandits up, 20-10. "It was more of a relief than a thrill, getting the monkey off my back. Now I can just go out there and play."
Perhaps Minnesota was a bit weary after having beaten Rochester, 11-10, at home Friday night. Whatever the reason, the Bandits jumped all over the Swarm, scoring the first three goals, nine of the first 10, and nine of 14 during the third quarter.
Tavares seemingly had a hand in all the action. He piled up a goal and five assists in the first quarter alone as the Bandits marched to a 7-1 lead, then added four points in the big third quarter.
"His vision is something I've always admired and something I'm trying to learn," said Steenhuis, who added four assists. "He knows where guys are going to be and figures out what his teammates are going to do. He has a genius mind out there. All year we've kind of been struggling to pot those goals, and it just so happened that tonight was it. We've had a couple of games we lost because we couldn't bury our opportunities. I knew one of these times we were going to light up the scoreboard the way we did tonight."