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Fasten your seat belts for Bandits vs. Rush

National Lacrosse League Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz is said to have spent some of his time during his first few months on the job looking for potential expansion owners and cities for 2018. I'm sure this thought has struck him: bring those possible owners to a game in this year's NLL Finals.

It ought to be terrific.

Both teams are playing extremely well, having made it through the division finals without a loss. There are stars on both sides, as Dhane Smith and Mark Matthews could be the league's most marketable players for the next several years.

What will the deciding factor of the series? That's a tough one. History doesn't help much. It's a meeting of the No. 1 team in in goals against the No. 1 team in goals against. That's only happened three other times since the Bandits entered the league in 1992. In 2006, Buffalo's top-rated defense lost to Colorado in the final. In 1998, Philadelphia was first in defense and beat Baltimore. In 1993, Buffalo - the best scoring team in the league, beat a stingy Philadelphia team. I don't see any obvious trends there.

Three items do come to mind. I would assume that Saskatchewan does not want to see a repeat of the 19-18 game that the teams played in the regular season. The Rush do not want to try to outscore the league's best offensive team, so we'll see if they can slow the tempo just a little bit while Buffalo will continue to take off whenever possible. Alex Kedoh Hill of the Bandits is the X-factor of the series, as he has been all over the field in the two playoff games.

Goaltending is always important in this sport. Anthony Cosmo has helped his playoff reputation since arriving in Buffalo. He arrived with an 0-6 record in the postseason, but as a Bandit he has gone 4-4. Cosmo has been in the league since 2001 and he's fully motivated to play well in his first final. The Bandits need Cosmo to be as good as Aaron Bold of Saskatchewan, as Bold proved last year that he is capable of winning a championship. Don't underestimate that fact; my usual formula for picking a champion is to choose a great goalie, and Matt Vinc of Rochester made me look smart that way.

Then there's the matter of the home-field advantage. The Bandits have it in the best-of-three series. I'd hate to say that Buffalo absolutely can not afford to lose Saturday night's opener. But being realistic, the Bandits don't want to head to Saskatoon in a week knowing the Rush can win the title in their own building.  It's tough enough to beat Saskatchewan at home, let alone when it is one game away from a title. But a win on Saturday by Buffalo puts all the pressure on the Rush.

I'll tweet out any news about the morning shootarounds @WDX2BB, and be available for your questions and comments that way before the game. It's my first final in person since 1994 (I still have the mug), and the first one as a Buffalo News reporter since Tom Borrelli passed away late in 2008. He would have loved this matchup, and everyone else will too.

Buckle up.

--- Budd Bailey

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