TORONTO – The Buffalo Bandits have been a model of consistency for much of the season.
That’s why they took a six-game winning streak into Friday’s game with the Toronto Rock, and why they are on top of the National Lacrosse League’s East Division.
It’s also why the 12-9 loss to the Rock before 9,237 in the Air Canada Centre was surprising and disappointing to the team.
It was a rare bad performance for the Bandits this season, who usually have figured out a way to win in 2016.
“The last six games we’ve won because we did whatever it took to win,” coach Troy Cordingley said. “Tonight we decided to take a night off.”
The Bandits go right back to work on Saturday night. They will again play Toronto, this time at the First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., Radio 550 AM).’’
This was not a night where Buffalo was particularly sharp or lucky. For example, this was the first time this season that the Bandits did not reach double figures in goals.
A reason for that was that the offense in general, and Dhane Smith in particular, seemed particularly unlucky. Smith, the league’s leading scorer, finished the game with 16 shots, but only had one goal and one assist. Ryan Benesch had the same statistics.
Chad Culp, who joined Mark Steenhuis as Buffalo’s team leader in goals on the night with two, gave some of the credit to the Toronto defense.
The Rock’s playoff hopes are slim, but Toronto still has a flicker of hope with this win.
“For sure, Toronto was desperate,” Culp said. “They are fighting for the playoff lives. But it was one of our worst games of the year.”
That defensive effort from the Rock included a strong effort from goalie Nick Rose, who stopped 41 out of 50 shots. Anthony Cosmo of the Bandits matched him great save for great save for quite a while in a close, entertaining game.
“We ran into a hot goalie,” Cosmo said. “Nick Rose had a great game. But we didn’t play to our potential. When that happens, that’s the result.”
Neither team had a lead of more than one goal for the first three quarters of the game.
But then the Rock went from a 7-6 deficit to an 11-7 lead at the halfway point of the fourth quarter. Buffalo got the lead down to two goals with less than three minutes to go but could edge no closer.
Rob Hellyer finished the game with two goals and five assists for the Rock, while Kasey Beirnes finished with three goals.
The NLL East standings didn’t change much at the end of Friday’s action. Buffalo fell to 10-5, but New England lost in Georgia to drop to 9-6. The Bandits can finish no lower than second in the East this season, which means they will play at least one home game. But the obvious goal is to finish first and earn a first-round bye in the postseason. A two-game lead with three games to go in the regular season would have been a nice cushion.
Instead, Buffalo is still in a battle to finish as high in the standings as possible. The Bandits were happy to get a chance at redemption about 24 hours after this one, against the same team no less.
“The good thing is that we play the same team” on Saturday, Culp said. “You can look for us to play with more energy, and more desperation.”
The Bandits have placed Matthew Bennett on injured reserve. They will not disclose the nature of the problem until receiving a report from doctors on Saturday. It is believed that the problem may be a long-term issue. Adam Will was recalled from the practice squad and scored a goal against Toronto in his first NLL game on Friday night. Cordingley described Will’s play as “awesome” and said the rookie would play again on Saturday. Billy Dee Smith and Craig England were Friday’s scratches.