NLL: Buffalo offense explodes, cruise to victory over rival Knighthawks

All year, a huge question surrounding the Buffalo Bandits has been when is their offense going to jive and put up the numbers we all know they can? Well, it seemed to have been Saturday night in their one-and-done playoff matchup against their crosstown rival, Rochester Knighthawks. Sorry in advance K-hawks faithful, this one got out of hand.

In front of 14,000+, the Bandits turned on the gas in the second half. With nine different goal scorers, four of them having hat tricks, the boys in the orange and black throttled Rochester, 20-8. Where’s Oprah Winfrey when we need her? You get a hat trick, and you get a hat trick, and you get a hat trick! Banditland was electric, let’s get to it.

It didn’t take long to get this party started, 23 seconds to be exact. Ian MacKay and Josh Byrne executed a perfect pick-and-roll and Mickey buried it. Kyle Buchanan followed that up with a bullet from distance. After a double minor for roughing, Buffalo saw their first power play and wasted little time cashing in as Byrne tiptoed around the crease before burying the shot. 3-0 Buffalo after one. Matt Vinc was sensational in the first quarter, stopping all 15 shots he saw.

After getting blanked in the first quarter, the Knighthawks (well, Holden Cattoni) rattled off three straight. Nothing like a natural hat trick for Cattoni in a four-minute span. Chris Cloutier gave Buffalo the lead back with his first of the night on the power play, but was answered right away by former Bandit, Connor Fields. Fields’ goal was also on the power play. Everyone, say it with me, lacrosse is a game of what? Runs, excellent. Cue the first of quite a few lengthy Buffalo runs in this game. To close out the quarter, Buffalo scored four straight. Scorers were Cloutier, his second, Dhane Smith twice and Tehoka Nanticoke. All of a sudden it was 8-4 Buffalo going into the break.

“I think we’ve done a good job,” said Fields at halftime. “Obviously to start, it’s the playoffs so it’s always tough, let alone, on the road in Banditland. We feel like we were getting good looks, just not finishing.”

Vinc was world-class in the first half, completely shutting down any major chances by Rochester. The veteran netminder made 25 saves on 29 shots. On the other side, Rylan Hartley struggled a bit, but showed stout goaltending at times. The youngster stopped 21 of 29.

Rochester scored the first two goals of the third quarter, the first was a deflected shot attempt that trickled in from Ryan Smith, and the other was Thomas Hoggarth firing a shot from the slot on the power play. Cue the next Buffalo run, only this time it was five straight. Scorers in that run were Smith, his hat trick, MacKay, his second, Steve Priolo, Buchanan, his second, and Byrne, his second. A couple of notes for ya, MacKay’s and Priolo’s goals set Banditland on fire, as they were two consecutive full-field transition goals. Also, MacKay, Priolo, Buchanan, and Byrne’s goals were all in a span of 1:53. Wow. Byrne’s also chased Hartley from the game for a brief period. You’ll see why he reentered in just a few minutes. Got all that? Good, because there’s more. Rochester stopped the bleeding, but only for a moment, as Curtis Knight got his first that trickled past Vinc. Byrne closed the quarter out with his hat trick after throwing a million fakes. The key to this goal was it began the final run of the game for Buffalo, this time starting what would be a seven straight. 14-7 Buffalo going into the fourth.

As we said, the next six were scored by Buffalo. Scorers were Chase Fraser, Brad McCulley, Nanticoke, his second, Buchanan, his hat trick, Cloutier, his hat trick, and Byrne, his fourth. Buchanan’s goal chased Riley Hutchcraft, and Hartley reentered. At the 6:12 mark of the quarter, Buffalo burned their timeout and out came Vinc and in came Devlin Shanahan in the Buffalo net. With under a minute left, Cattoni got his fourth of the game on the power play. That would be all she wrote from Banditland. Your final, 20-8 Buffalo.

Players of the game for Buffalo were Byrne (4+5), Smith (3+7), and Cloutier (3+4). Buchanan also had a hat trick, with five points total. Vinc was spectacular, stopping 44 of 51 on the night in 53:48 of action. Shanahan got in some work and looked solid, stopping six of seven in 6:12 of game time. For Rochester, Cattoni (4+2), Fields (1+4), and Smith (1+3) led the way. The Rochester goaltending combo of Hartley and Hutchcraft struggled all game long. Hartley went 32 of 47 and Hutchcraft stopped six of 11.

“We’re having fun,” said Dhane after the game. “We’re hitting our stride at the right moment, that was big for our confidence.”

“With the chemistry building and the ball going in, it makes a big difference to have everyone back,” said John Tavares. “I’ve told ya, goal scoring solves a lot of problems.”

Buffalo looks to continue their “Drive for Five” as they advance to the East Conference Finals. Game one of the best-of-three series is Friday night in Banditland as they welcome the Toronto Rock to town. Faceoff for game one is at 7:30 pm. Game two will be played the next night at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton. Faceoff in game two is at 7 pm. If necessary, game three will be back in Buffalo on May 20th at 7:30 pm. You should probably clear your schedule for this Friday and Saturday night, because those two games are going to be instant classics.