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Bandits 11, Blazers 8 – “This one was a character win”

buffalo-bandits-logo“Survive and Advance”.

That is the mantra of college basketball’s March Madness, but could certainly be fitting for the Buffalo Bandits, as last night they began National Lacrosse league playoff play at HSBC Arena.

When it was all over, the Bandits racked themselves up a huge 11-8 win over the Boston Blazers, setting up for a second round playoff showdown against the New York Titans next weekend.

The Bandits came out smoking in this one, doling out punishing hits and taking physical control of the game early. Cory Bomberry earned fan honors for the “Carrubba Collision”, delivering a hard body check 5 minutes into the game which had the crowd on its feet, but nonetheless earned a penalty for “illegal cross check”. “I didn’t think it should have been a penalty,” Bomberry said after the game.

Buffalo took an early 4-1 lead, but the Blazers crawled back to tie it, before Buffalo would score in the final second of the first quarter to go up by one. John Tavares then scored on a shorthanded breakaway to give the Bandits a two goal cushion, but Boston would tie it again, and by halftime the Bandits were nursing a one goal lead.

The third quarter was a defensive affair on both sides, with slow and sluggish play and neither team able to seize opportunities. Boston scored the only goal of the frame, a power play goal late, with Dan Dawson getting yet another assist, he had seven on the night of Boston’s eight goals.

So it all came to down to one period, and it was Buffalo who broke the tie early, with John Tavares’ second goal of the game a laser fired from the top of the slot at the 1:26 mark. Shortly thereafter Mark Steenhuis’ long shot found the back of the net, and Buffalo was again up by two. Boston got one back, but then Steenhuis netted his fourth of the game. Steenhuis gave credit to his teammates Mike Accursi and Cory Bomberry for their help in his successes. “Cory and Mike are the workhorses. They created the space that allowed me to get open. Give the credit to them.”

From then on it was stellar defense and clutch saves from Ken Montour to keep the Blazers at bay. A last second empty net goal by Tom Montour put an exclamation point on the evening. Final score: Buffalo 11, Boston 8. It was party time in Banditland.

Bandits Coach Darris Kilgour was especially pleased with the way his defense played. “Our defense played great for four quarters. Kyle Schmelzle… Joe Smith.. I could go up and down the line.” If there was one area where the Bandits got into trouble it was on the penalty kill. The Blazers netted four power play goals, many coming late on the penalty, where they controlled possession and clock time. “I wasn’t too concerned,” said Kilgour. “Yeah they managed to collect the loose balls and rebounds, but five on five we outplayed them.”

13,343 fans were in attendance, a bit of a disappointing turnout considering the packed houses the Bandits have enjoyed for most of the regular season. Those who did attend certainly had their best game faces on, many clad in black and orange and turning on the chants and rhythmic clapping throughout the game. Annoying P.A. Guy was also in his typical rare form, and we surmise he might have even hoisted a couple before (or during) the game. Early in the 4th quarter he screeched “Bom-Berryyyyyy!…… DAMN!” on a missed goal opportunity…. Later in the game he announced that the Bandits would be taking on the New York SAINTS in next week’s playoff game. The team is named the Titans. The New York Saints were a former NLL franchise, long since departed. And the “Swennie Says” segment… yeah he totally botched it, beseeching fans to get up and sit down like jackrabbits. The last man standing won a team jersey, and A.P.A.G. then told the guy “Put that jersey on!” while the winner was in full view up on the video board. Only problem is the fan would have had to shed about 100 pounds to shimmy in to that puppy.

The Bandits will travel to New York next Saturday at 7;30PM to take on the New York SaintsTitans at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. A trusted source in the Bandits organization told us that the Bandits tried to “purchase” the game and have the venue moved to Buffalo, offering as much as $75,000 for the home rights, but that offer did not pan out. The Titans have had trouble getting traction and establishing a dedicated fan base in the New York market, and have played their home dates at three different venues throughout the Tri-State area. This past weekend the Titans only drew about 4,000 patrons to their first round playoff game.

Kilgour expects a tough fight against a team that the Bandits have struggled against this season. “We need to limit Casey Powell’s opportunities… and we have to find a way to beat (goaltender) Matt Vinc,” said Kilgour. “No one in this locker room has been happy with the second half of this season,” added Mark Steenhuis. “We want to go in there and play better.”

Will there be more playoff action at HSBC Arena this year? That all depends. Of course, the Bandits would have to take care of business in New York next weekend. They would then take on the winner of the West in the Championship Game. If Calgary comes out of the West, that game will take place at the Pengrowth Saddledome. If San Jose defeats Calgary in the western final next weekend, then the championship will be played right here in Buffalo in two weeks.

Updated Sunday 5/3 8:35PM