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Win record assured, Bandits look ahead to playoffs

Now the winningest team in franchise history, the Buffalo Bandits can focus their attention on the National Lacrosse League playoffs.

After missing the postseason the last two years, the Bandits will face the New England Black Wolves at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at KeyBank Center in a first round of the NLL East Division playoffs. Buffalo will have home advantage throughout the playoffs.

Buffalo completed its record season with an emphatic 18-7 win over the San Diego Seals before 8,357 at the Pechanga Arena (formerly the Sports Arena) in San Diego on Saturday night.

The outcome brought Buffalo’s record to 14-4, bettering the 13-5 record by the 2016 Bandits. The most successful regular season in franchise history came after two successive losing seasons, 6-12 in 2017 and 8-10 in 2018. The Bandits were 9-4 against East Division teams and won all five against the West. Their seven road wins was another franchise record and they beat every team in the league for the first time since 1997.

Against San Diego, the Bandits closed the first period with a four-goal run to take a 5-1 lead. The Seals got as close as 5-4 in the second before the Bandits put them away with six unanswered goals bridging the second and third periods.

Buffalo led 18-6 in the fourth period. The lead was so comfortable that the Bandits were able to lift goalkeeper Matt Vinc and insert backup Zach Higgins into the game.

Shawn Evans was involved in four of the first five Buffalo goals with three assists and one score. Evans had six assists in his eight-point night.

Chase Fraser had three goals and three assists for Buffalo. Jordan Durston had three goals and an assist.

The loss dropped the Seals to 10-8 on the season but they still finished as the No. 2 seed in the West Division because the Calgary Roughnecks fell to the Colorado Mammoth, 18-8, on Friday. San Diego and Calgary each finished the regular season at 10-8, but the Seals won the season series tiebreaker, 2-1.

The Bandits not only finished the regular season with the best record in the NLL, they led the league in goals scored (244), assists 384 and allowed the fewest goals (186).

Among goalies who played a minimum of 330 minutes, Vinc was the leader with a 10.02 goals-against average. His won-lost mark was 14-2, a franchise record. His save percentage of .802 was second to Warren Hill of Rochester (.810), who played only 387:53 minutes. Vinc played 1036:24.

Dhane Smith of the Bandits was fifth in the NLL with 102 points (32 goals, 70 assists), his fourth 100-point season, tying a franchise record. Evans was seventh in scoring (28-66-94). The Buffalo team leader in goals, however, was Corey Small with 36. He had 74 points. Small also led the NLL with 14 power-play goals and Smith led with 22 power-play assists.

Buffalo’s Steve Priolo was second among defenseman in the NLL in points with 26 and goals with 11.

The Bandits were second to Saskatchewan in home attendance, averaging 13,046, to the 13,459 for the Rush.

Buffalo won both regular-season games against its first-round playoff opponent, New England. The Bandits won, 15-5, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut and 12-6 at KeyBank Center.

The NLL playoffs will open on Friday night when Colorado plays at No. 1 seed Saskatchewan Rush in the West Division.

Next Monday, May 6, the Toronto Rock will play at the Georgia Swarm in the other East Division first-round game. Later that night, the Calgary Roughnecks will play at San Diego in the West Division game. San Diego will be handicapped in the postseason without Austin Staats, San Diego’s top rookie forward now on the shelf with a torn ACL. Staats led NLL rookies with 32 goals and 61 points.

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