The Buffalo Bandits will start the playoffs at home. And they won't need any outside help to extend their postseason run at HSBC Arena.
Their 15-5 home romp over the Arizona Sting Saturday night before 13,492 ensured a first-round home playoff game. It also guarantees that this weekend's home-and-home showdown series against the first-place Rochester Knighthawks to close the regular season will decide the top seed in the National Lacrosse League's East Division.
"When were at 2-4 we realized if we wanted any chance for first we were basically going to have to win out," said Kyle Laverty, one of the key back liners in the second-stingiest defensive effort in the Bandits' 16-year franchise history. "We're building every game, getting better. We're on a roll at the right time."
By capturing their eighth straight, for the second-longest win streak in franchise history, the Bandits improved to 10-4. Though they remain two games behind the Knighthawks (12-2), the Bandits can grab home advantage for at least two playoff games by winning both Friday at HSBC Arena and again Saturday night in Blue Cross Arena.
"It's a tough mountain to climb, having to beat them back-to-back in the same weekend," said goaltender Steve Dietrich, who made 43 saves in his most effective effort of the season. "But this team has a lot of character and if we put it all together again, we have a good chance."
Friday's game will be the first matchup of teams carrying winning streaks of eight or more in the league's 21-year history. Rochester is riding a 10-game winning streak.
"If we want to be the best, we know we have to beat the best," said defenseman Billy Dee Smith, who along with Laverty helped limit NLL scoring leader Dan Dawson to a goal and two assists. "As long as we do what we have been the last seven or eight games, we'll be all right. We sure don't get in trouble as much with [Dietrich] playing that well."
Rookie Brett Bucktooth, Mark Steenhuis and Roger Vyse had three goals each, and John Tavares had a goal and five assists as the Bandits used an early six-goal run to turn this one into a laugher. Arizona (9-5) had already clinched a playoff spot in the West and was coming off the high of a 14-8 victory at defending champion Colorado last weekend.
"Our defense played great," said Bucktooth, who had the first two hat tricks of his career in the last two games. "We knew Dawson and [Craig] Conn would be a tough matchup but we did a great job of doubling the ball and collapsing on the key guys when we had to."
For the third straight game, the Bandits chased a starting goaltender. When Delby Powless scored 2:12 into the second half to give Buffalo a 10-2 advantage, Sting head coach Bob Hamley pulled starter Rob Blasdell -- who ranks second in the league with a 10.51 goals-against average.
Blasdell faced only 23 shots as Arizona enjoyed a deceiving 48-38 edge in that category.
"We didn't have anything for them," said Hamley, who won two championships as a Bandits player but is now 0-5 coaching against his former team. "Full credit to Buffalo, they dominated us in every area.
Said Laverty: "We wanted to put them in areas that they were uncomfortable with. . . . It looked like they just didn't want to pay the price coming through the middle and it showed on the scoreboard."
The Bandits' first postseason game will be either Friday, April 20 or Sunday, April 22, depending on the Buffalo Sabres' playoff series.