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Bandits hope week off doesn't slow their momentum

After one of the most dramatic weekends in the long career of John Tavares, the Buffalo Bandits' forward had a week off. Tavares scored overtime goals in back-to-back nights on March 12 and 13, as the Bandits won road games in Toronto and Boston to re-enter the playoff race.

The 41-year-old would have preferred, though, to have played another game as soon as possible.

"I'd like to say I enjoyed the break, but I'd have preferred to get right back at it," Tavares said. "It was unfortunate that we had to take a break as a team. As an older player, some rest is always needed, but it would have been good to keep our momentum going."

After sitting out last week, the Bandits will return to action tonight against the Knighthawks in Rochester's Blue Cross Arena (7:45 p.m., Radio 1520 AM, telecast on NLL.com).

The Bandits go into this game on their best roll of the season. They have won their last three games and four of their last five. But before looking ahead to tonight's game, Tavares doesn't mind reviewing what happened two weeks ago.

The Bandits had never played two consecutive overtime games in their 19-year history before, let alone won them both. In both cases, the Bandits got possession in overtime, called a timeout, and called the same play. Against Toronto, Tavares took a pass from Mark Steenhuis near the net and one-timed a shot into the net 25 seconds into extra time. If you blinked, you missed it.

"Mark talked about that play before the game," Tavares said. "We all liked it. We ran it a couple of times during the game and it didn't work, but it worked in overtime."

The play didn't go according to plan the next night in Boston. Tavares had to improvise in order to score at 36 seconds of overtime.

"We had to modify the play a little bit," Tavares said. "I got a little bit lucky. I got desperate [at the end of the shot clock] and created my own shot. Fortunately, it went in.

"It's a great feeling when you win that quickly, but it's awful when you lose. I've been on the other end, where a team scored the other way and the offensive players don't even get a chance to score."

It's plays like that that have helped the Bandits become relevant in the East Division of the National Lacrosse League again. Tavares missed the first six games of the season with a calf injury.

"He's solidifying his place in history," Bandits Associate General Manager Derek Graham said. "We knew we'd struggle without him. I knew that once we got him back, our goals-for would go up. That's what we were missing. A team should be able to win without one player. That's the premise, anyway. But maybe we proved him wrong."

The team's winning streak has allowed the Bandits to play some important games down the stretch, but that won't help much if they don't win them. A win tonight would put Buffalo at 6-6 and allow it to leapfrog over Rochester and into one of the four playoff spots.

"Every game, we have to continue to win," Tavares said. "We have to take advantage of this. We go into the game with Rochester at 5-6, and if we lose we go back back to 5-7."

Rochester comes into the game right in the middle of the scramble. The Knighthawks are 5-5, a game out of first place entering the weekend but a half-game ahead of the fifth-place Bandits.

Rochester has lost its last two games, and the problem has been an unexpected drop in offense. The Knighthawks scored only four goals in a loss to Orlando two weeks ago, and have scored more than 12 goals in a game only twice this season. That's surprising, considering Rochester can throw future Hall of Famers like John Grant Jr. and Gary Gait on the floor for a given game.

"There are a lot of good athletes out there," Tavares said about Rochester. "Sometimes a team can look good on paper, but just doesn't score. It's hard to add it all up sometimes. Rochester has a team that can score. Any one of their big guys can score five goals in a game. We have to think they are going to score, but we need to keep them under 10."

If the Bandits accomplish that goal, they could take a giant step toward gaining a playoff spot. Buffalo hasn't missed the postseason since 2002, and doesn't want to ruin that streak now.

"We have to look at taking baby steps, so that we can try to put ourselves in the playoffs," Tavares said.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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