Last season, the Buffalo Bandits staggered into the playoffs by ending the regular season with eight straight losses.
This time, the Bandits are trying a different approach.
The Bandits defeated the New England Black Wolves, 20-10, before a happy 15,374 in First Niagara Center on Saturday night. It was Buffalo’s fourth straight win and its 11th win of the season – the most since 2006.
“Obviously, this is a lot of fun,” Dhane Smith said. “We’re jelling at the right time.”
The Bandits threatened to fill the arena with noteworthy statistical events and milestones, mostly because of an offense that is playing extremely well. For starters, the Bandits scored 20 goals in consecutive games for the first time since 2006.
“We were moving the ball real well,” Buffalo coach Troy Cordingley said. “You put up 20 in back-to-back games in the league, it’s pretty good.”
Ryan Benesch capped a fabulous season with a 12-point night (three goals and nine assists), a career best for him. Benesch finished the season with 54 goals, which could be good enough to lead the league.
Some games out West ended too late for this edition. Benesch also came within two points of tying John Tavares’ record for points in a season by a Bandit, finishing at 113.
“Benny, he’s a pro’s pro, especially in the way he approaches the game,” Cordingley said.
Dhane Smith had two goals and seven assists, moving his assist total to 68. That broke the Bandits’ record set by Tavares in 2001.
“That obviously feels good,” Smith said about the record. “I didn’t realize it. Nobody told me about that. The team really helped me get there.”
Smith joined Benesch as 100-point scorers, the first time the Bandits have had two in the same season.
Mark Steenhuis had a relatively quiet eight points, all assists. Buffalo’s three top scorers combined for 82 points in the last three games, and the team had 57 goals in that span.
However, the Bandits’ Big Three received plenty of help Saturday. Tavares played like he was 26 instead of 46 by scoring four goals. He’s up to 814 in his fabulous career.
“Watching him, I was like, ‘Wow, he still has it,’ ” Smith said. “When he’s in the lineup, it’s unbelievable what he can do.”
Mitch Jones and Alex Kedoh Hill also scored four goals each, with Hill adding four assists.
Meanwhile, Jay Thorimbert broke the National Lacrosse League record for faceoffs won and loose balls in a season.
“Jay is a great player,” Benesch said. “He’s a great defender, he’s got the wheels to get down the floor, and he’s got a good shot. He doesn’t get enough credit.”
New England hung with the Bandits for a few minutes. Then Buffalo scored 10 straight goals to take control of the game for keeps, making the second half a matter of counting down the minutes until the game’s conclusion.
New England “played last night, and they gave a good effort, and it takes a toll,” Cordingley said. “We wanted to keep running.”
All of those records and milestones can go into the record book and then be forgotten. It’s time for the playoffs. Buffalo goes to Rochester on Friday night for a single-elimination game with the Knighthawks.
The Bandits lost three times to Rochester this season, but the teams haven’t played since Feb. 21. Buffalo hopes it is peaking.
“This week will go by so fast,” Benesch said. “I’m starting work on Monday, and all I’ll be thinking about is what will happen on Friday. Hopefully it will rain so I can sit in the truck and watch some game film.”
“There are six teams left, and if you’re not ready for this, you’re in the wrong business,” Cordingley added. “On to the madness.”