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Bandits’ early burst is decisive in win

The Buffalo Bandits not only won on Saturday night, but they got to enjoy the ride for a change.

The Bandits defeated the Minnesota Swarm, 12-8, before 14,601 in the First Niagara Center in their most one-sided victory of the season. Even so, the result could have been even more decisive than it was. Buffalo had a 12-6 lead after three quarters, and simply took care of business down the stretch.

“We haven’t put together many complete games this year. We’ve had lots of ups and downs this year,” Bandits forward Mark Steenhuis said. “It was nice to keep them at a distance for most of the game. We held the reins throughout the game. It gives everyone a good feeling, and it makes for a good win.”

This was a game of runs, as indoor lacrosse contests often are, and the decisive moments of the game came before some of the fans were in their seats. The Bandits had a 5-0 lead before six minutes had elapsed. Not only was Buffalo efficient in that time offensively, but it was also spectacular.

Bandit players were moving without the ball, accepting passes in good position, and capitalizing on their chances. They resembled a basketball team that was in perfect balance.

“I was happy to see us share the ball,” coach Troy Cordingley of Buffalo said. “We were very creative in that stretch. Everyone was touching the ball. Others were creating seals, and we were making nice plays.”

That almost understates the case. One goal seemed prettier than the next. Steenhuis took a long pass from John Tavares for a slam-dunk of a goal in the first minute. Chad Culp made a behind-the-back to a charging Ryan Benesch for a score. Jay Thorimbert won a faceoff and threw a 90-foot pass to Alex Kedoh Hill, who stuffed home a shot for the Bandits’ second goal in three seconds. (The league doesn’t keep track of all-time records in that category.) Steve Priolo charged down the field in transition and hit a laser of a shot to finish the outburst.

“It was nice,” Steenhuis said. “Troy preaches balance, and when the team plays like that it puts a lot of pressure on the other team. … I would have liked to hit 15, 16 goals tonight.”

“When you fall behind, 5-0, you’re not going to win many games,” Minnesota coach Joe Sullivan said. “They got four goals on their first seven shots. That’s no good in any game.”

Oddly, it wasn’t inconceivable that the Swarm could have been in a much better position after that burst. Minnesota had absolutely no good fortune in the opening minutes.

“I think they had four goalposts in the first six or seven minutes,” Buffalo goaltender Anthony Cosmo said. “I’ll take it. We were lucky to be up, 5-0.”

The game went back and forth a bit after the start. Minnesota cut the Bandits’ lead to 5-3, but Buffalo scored the next four goals to take control again. In the third quarter, Dean Hill of the Swarm had an apparent goal that would have cut the margin to 10-7. However, the Bandits won a video challenge on a crease violation, and 25 seconds later John Tavares scored his first short-handed goal since 2011 to restore order.

Cosmo finished the game with 44 saves, and several of them were examples of how good positioning can make a huge difference.

“Our defense was horrible at times, but Cozzy was outstanding,” Cordingley said. “We left too many open guys tonight. But our discipline won the game. We didn’t take any dumb penalties.”

The third-place Bandits (7-6) took a good step toward a playoff berth with the win. Buffalo clinched the season series with Minnesota (3-8), the first playoff tiebreaker. The Bandits have a two-game lead on New England for the final East postseason berth, although the Black Wolves (3-6) have played four fewer games this season.

But more importantly, the Bandits showed they could win without much accompanying drama.

“We want to focus on winning games,” Cosmo said. “We want to get as many wins as we can, and keep improving from week to week.”

The Bandits are off next week, returning on April 4 against New England.