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Bandits’ margin of error for playoffs shrinks

The Buffalo Bandits still have a chance to host a first-round playoff game in the National Lacrosse League playoffs in two weeks.

That is not a typographical error.

It comes in spite of the fact that the Bandits have lost their last six games to tie a franchise record. It’s in spite of the fact that the team is coming off the worst loss in team history, a 21-7 shellacking by the Minnesota Swarm. It’s also in spite of the fact that the team already has clinched a second straight losing season, a first for the franchise.

Buffalo’s playoff hopes are not dead as it goes into tonight’s game against the Washington Stealth (10 p.m.,, Radio 1520 AM) in Everett, Wash. Those dreams may not even be terminated with another loss tonight, although it wouldn’t help.

Still, the situation for the 5-9 Bandits has grown more desperate by the week.

“It’s a tough road. We’ve gone through a tough time through the last month, one game after another,” Mark Steenhuis said. “We haven’t been able to pinpoint or correct the problem. It’s at the point now, we’re trying to correct things.”

The Bandits could gain the distinction of being the only team in a nine-team league to be eliminated from the playoffs as early as tonight. Buffalo would have to lose to Washington while Rochester (6-7) wins in Calgary. The Knighthawks also could eliminate the Bandits after a Buffalo loss tonight if Rochester wins Sunday in Edmonton.

But ... Buffalo, Rochester and Philadelphia (6-8) still could all finish 6-10. That would create a three-way tie for second place in the NLL East, and the Bandits would win the tiebreaker because it would be 4-3 against the other two teams (3-1 vs. Rochester, 1-2 vs. Philadelphia). Buffalo also could finish 7-9 to take second while Rochester and Philadelphia finish 6-10. Second-place teams host a first-round playoff game. There are other combinations that would put Buffalo in the postseason.

“As much damage as we’ve inflicted upon ourselves, we still have an opportunity,” said Steenhuis, who moved into an offensive role last week against Minnesota. “We’re trying to piece things together. We’ll run our systems and play a full game. We’ve played decently for a quarter at times. There’s still a chance. You don’t want to be playing for nothing.”

The Bandits’ mountain of problems grew a bit when first-string goaltender Anthony Cosmo suffered an undisclosed injury during the Minnesota loss. He missed Tuesday’s practice and his status is uncertain for tonight.

If Cosmo can’t play, Kurtis Wagar would be the starter for the first time this season. Wagar’s goals-against average is just a little worse than Cosmo’s, 13.37 to 13.47, although Cosmo has played about three times as much.

The Bandits go up against a team tonight that has some goals to achieve. Washington is part of a three-way tie in the West with Calgary and Edmonton at 8-6. The Stealth would clinch a home playoff game with a win tonight and a Rochester win this weekend. First place in the division obviously is still within reach.

While Washington knows it will be busy when the postseason arrives, Buffalo has no such assurances. Can a Bandits team that has gone 0-6 after a 5-3 start, with some of the losses coming in horrific ways, hang on to a chance to salvage the season? We’ll know more after this weekend.

“There are two streets to go down,” Steenhuis said. “We’ve all been gripping the sticks too tight for the last month, and we know it can be detrimental if we do that. We’ve got to try to watch our emotions and perform the way we can perform.”