NLL: Bandits secure home floor and NLL’s top seed with win in Georgia

Buffalo Bandits @ Georgia Swarm. (Kyle Hess/Georgia Swarm)

The expression is simple: third time’s a charm. Saturday night, the Buffalo Bandits had their third crack at locking up home floor advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s late in the year, injuries have been prevalent over the course of the last couple weeks, but the boys in the orange and black were up to the task.

Buffalo came into “Sting City” in Duluth, Georgia with quite the chip on their shoulder from the look of it. Coming in, the Bandits had dropped two games in a row. Saturday night, Buffalo took that as fuel to show Georgia and the rest of the league why they are on top, exterminating the Swarm, 18-9.

To quote the Oprah Winfrey, “you get a car, and you get a car!” The Buffalo Bandits said “you get a goal, and you get a goal,” with 10 different players finding the back of the net in this contest.

Brendan Bomberry scored the first goal of the game just two minutes in, only to be answered by Chris Cloutier less than 30 seconds later. Oh, one of these see-saw games again? Nope, think again. Josh Byrne tallied the next goal in unreal fashion. Usually known for his athleticism, Byrne used brute strength to bully three Swarm defenders while spinning and driving to the net. Captain Steve Priolo got a slick transition goal and Miles Thompson got his first of the season. Who did Miles get the ball from? Yep, his brother Lyle. That’s a connection that never gets old. 3-2 Buffalo after one.

The first 10 or so minutes in the second quarter was back and forth. Georgia regained the lead with two quick goals from Joel White and Lyle Thompson. Lyle’s goal was a sight to see as well. Not from an athleticism standpoint, but from an unreal dish from Jordan MacIntosh. Thompson came flying off the bench and cut right through the middle of all five Buffalo defenders. MacIntosh quite literally threaded the needle with an insane pass leading to Lyle burying a shot. Connor Fields found the back of the net next with a shot from way out, to tie the game back up. Shayne Jackson notched one for the Swarm, only to be answered by Cloutier’s second of the night. With the score sitting at five apiece, this was about as close as Georgia would get, as Buffalo put the pedal to the metal.

Fields and Chase Fraser then traded goals 20 seconds apart. With an assist on Fields’ goal, Kyle Buchanan notched #300 in his career. A goal from Buchanan and one on the power play from Dhane Smith, made the score 9-5 Buffalo. Tehoka Nanticoke joined the scoring party with a slick low-to-high bullet, which ended Mike Poulin’s night. Enter backup Craig Wende. MacIntosh stopped the bleeding for a moment with a dunk from behind the net, only to be answered by Smith’s second of the night. 11-6 Buffalo going into the half.

Matt Vinc was sparkling, stopping 17 of 23 at the half. The Poulin/Wende combo only stopped 18 of 29.

Have you catch your breath? Good. The third quarter was way more mild than the second. Byrne got his second of the night on the powerplay. Eighteen seconds later, Matt Spanger intercepted a pass and scored in transition. Stephan Leblanc stopped the bleeding, but only for a moment. Cloutier got his hat trick to close out the quarter and set Buffalo up nicely to ride this one out. 14-7 Bandits going into the final frame.

TJ Comizio opened the scoring for the Swarm in the fourth. Ian MacKay answered that, and with a bang, literally and figuratively. MacKay was in the box for a holding penalty, exited the box and laid the boom on Bryan Cole. MacKay scooped up the loose ball, hopped over Cole, drove in and beat Wende with a twisting shot.

What could top that? Nanticoke said hold on one second. The dynamic rookie parked himself in front of the net, received a pass, spun through three Georgia defenders and dove to beat Wende. Miles Thompson got his second of the night, and both Fields and Byrne got their hat tricks, and that’s all she wrote. Your final, 18-9 Buffalo. What a buzzkill.

Josh Byrne was asked after the game about what clicked in the second quarter to get the team going.

“We’re just trying to set our offense right now, moving the ball, focusing on the little things. When we do that, we’re a dangerous team,” he said. He also praised the defense and “V” (Vinc) for having a “huge bounceback game.”

Players of the game for Buffalo were Cloutier (3+5), Smith (2+7), Byrne (3+3) and Fields (3+3). Matt Vinc shone all night, stopping 28 of 37 shots. Vinc also broke the single season saves record and eclipsed 9000 in his illustrious career.

The Thompson brothers were as good as advertised with Miles scoring two goals and Lyle having six points on the night.

Buffalo (14-3) are your top seed in the playoffs. They have a week off to prepare to take on Toronto (12-5) on April 30th to close out the regular season. Georgia (8-8), travels to Fort Worth to take on Panther City Lacrosse Club (7-9) next week.