Justin Ivey, Co-Editor and NLL Correspondent
Lacrosse is Awesome©
Featured Image Photo Credit: Michael Hetzel/NLL
The Buffalo Bandits ended the regular season with the best record in the NLL and the home floor advantage for their championship run. On Saturday night, they hosted the Albany Firewolves whom they had already beaten twice this season. Albany came in having been in playoff mode for their last month of the regular season, needing to win each week to keep their playoff aspirations alive. This matchup was thought to be a low scoring affair as Buffalo goaltender Matt Vinc (45SV) and Albany netminder Doug Jamieson (49SV) have been two of the best between the pipes all season. Combined they only allowed four goals in the first half of this battle. Entering the second half tied 2-2, the Bandits were able to muster just enough offense to move on to the second round. Final Score: Albany-5, Buffalo-10.
Bandit Land was in the game from the opening faceoff, making their voices heard every time the home team had the ball. The biggest celebrations came from the Vinc saves, and the biggest disappointment came from Jamieson saving everything on the other net. It took over nine minutes of game time before Reilly O’Connor (2G, 2A) broke the scoreless tie with a power play goal to put the visitors ahead 1-0. Less than a minute later, Dhane Smith (2G, 4A) evened the score at 1-1 and that was all the offenses could find as the defensive units flew around the turf with grit and speed. At the end of the first quarter, Buffalo and Albany were tied 1-1.
The Firewolves didn’t have to wait as long to score in the second quarter. Joe Resetarits (1G) fired a rocket to the back of the net from outside just 3:42 in. For almost 10 minutes, Albany was able to hold the lead, but Ian MacKay (1G) broke free in transition to tie the game back up with two minutes remaining in the half. Going into the locker room, the game looked like it was falling into Albany’s hands, a low scoring game with few good shot opportunities. Even though the game was tied, the Firewolves were showing confidence in their ability to stop the potent Bandit offense. At the half, Buffalo and Albany were tied 2-2.
The scoring pace picked up to start the second half. Smith scored his second of the game just 14 seconds in, and Josh Byrne (2G, 2A) threw a fake to get Jamieson off his spot before spinning and burying his first of the game. Jacob Ruest (1G, 1A) scored after finding himself open in the middle for a feed from O’Connor 3:48 in to get Albany back to within one, but Byrne scored again 8:04 into the third to stretch it back. The weight of every goal in this low scoring game was palpable. O’Connor scored just over a minute later, barely even letting the ball hit the back of his pocket before whizzing a quick stick past Vinc on the feed from Charlie Kitchen (1A). The one goal lead would remain intact until Connor Fields (2G, 2A) scored on a Buffalo powerplay with 3:44 remaining. At the end of the third quarter, Buffalo led Albany 6-4.
The fourth quarter opened with a quick goal from Chris Cloutier (1G, 1A) and Buffalo had a three-goal lead 1:08 in, their largest lead of the game. The Albany five on five offense was flustered and could not find a way to beat Vinc in a settled situation. Finally, Colton Watkinson (1G, 1A) broke free in transition to get the Albany deficit back to two, but the clock had less than five minutes remaining. The remaining time belonged to the Bandits. Fields notched his second with under three minutes on the clock before Frank Brown (1G) and Steve Priolo (1G, 1A) scored empty netters to bring us to our final. Final Score: Albany-5, Buffalo-10.
The Buffalo Bandits will host the Toronto Rock on Sunday, May 15 at 6:00 PM EST for Game 1 of the best of three series.