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Bandits 13, Knighthawks 9: Buffalo takes big step towards postseason

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It wasn’t the sexiest game you want to watch. And for a while there, the Bandits looked a bit forlorn, surrendering the lead in the 3rd quarter and looking tired in the process. But thanks to some key scoring late in the thrid quarter by Pat McCready and Mike Accursi, a strong fourth quarter where the Bandits scored five times, and fabulous netminding by goaltender Ken Montour, the Buffalo Bandits defeated the Rochester Knighthawks 13-9 tonight at HSBC Arena.

17,118 fans turned out for this one, including a small but vocal smattering of fans from Rochester, and watched the Bandits take an early 2-0 lead. Even Phil Sanderson got in on the scoring in this one, scoring his first of the season on a nifty pass from behind the goal by Pat McCready, leaving him all alone in front of the net. Stars John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis, both of whom have been battling the flu, combined on a nifty two on one, with Steenhuis left with nothing but empty net, totally fooling Rochester goalie Pat O’Toole.

Rochester would come back however, scoring three straight in the third quarter to take their second lead of the game. But Buffalo answered quickly, and opened up the game in the fourth. Cory Bomberry went airborne to make it 9-7, then Roger Vyse’s laser long shot upped it to 10-7.

With the score 11-8 Bandits five minutes into the fourth quarter, Montour electrified the crowd with two point blank saves, one reaching out his stick to block what would have been a sure goal. The play then went the other way, and Roger Vyse’s next patented laser gave the Bandits a four goal lead, their largest of the night. Said Montour “I was out of position and just stuck my stick out. I guess I got lucky. Ten seconds later I just dove and the ball hit me.” Coach Darris Kilgour heaped praise on his netminder, saying “Kenny gave us all he had tonight.” Montour faced 61 shots tonight, and stopped 52 of them. “When Kenny’s on his game, he’s unstoppable,” added teammate Mike Accursi.

Rochester pulled their goaltender with less than two minutes left in the game, and managed to get continuous possession, until Buffalo intercepted the ball in a crowd in front of their net. John Tavares’ dribbler traveled 150 feet and slowly made it into the empty Rochester net to seal the win for Buffalo. Final score: Bandits 13, Knighthawks 9.

Coach Kilgour liked what he saw not only from his goaltender, but from his defense. “Our defense played well in front of him (Montour),” said Kilgour. “We got timely goals in the fourth quarter. They’re a big team. We wanted to shoot from the outside. We wanted to restrict the flow tonight.”

With the win, the Bandits have secured at least one home playoff game. The divisional semifinal will be played the weekend of May 1 at HSBC Arena. But their work is not done – the team will seek to clinch the East Division and home field advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, as they travel to New York to face the Titans Saturday night. And for even more scoreboard watching – the Calgary Roughnecks lost tonight, dropping to 10-4 in the West. Where Calgary ends up could have home field implications should Buffalo and Clagary make it to the championship game. As for tomorrow, Kilgour stated that Mike Thompson will get the start in goal down in New York, with Montour slated to start next weekend. “I have every trust in Mikey,” said Kilgour.

With back to back games this weekend, might fatigue become a factor down in New York? Accursi responded, “It’s always a concern, and they’re down there waiting for us, but now we’ve played and we can be a bit loose as well. It works both ways. Plus, they came in here and beat us so we have something to prove.”

After this weekend the team will then conclude the 2009 regular season at home against the Boston Blazers next Saturday with a 7:30PM start.

GAME NIGHT EVENT CREW THOUGHTS —

We’re gonna lighten up a bit on Annoying P.A. Guy, after hearing loud and clear from the folks in Banditland how much beloved he really is. Turns out, he wasn’t at his usual post for tonight’s game, a rare absence for one of the most dedicated and passionate parts of the Bandits game night crew. Bandits Media Relations Chief Chris Ostrander reported that there was a schedule conflict on this night, and backup Rich Gaenzler capably filled in on the mic, still keeping going some of the Bandits signature chants (Bom-Bom-Bom-Berry), although at a slightly lower decibel.