NLL: Byrne, Bandits take game two of home and home with Swarm

Buffalo Bandits vs Georgia Swarm. January 14, 2023 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Joe Hrycych

Banditland sure knows how to party! Fourteen thousand, one hundred and eighty nine raucous fans came to see the boys in black and orange on Saturday night. The Georgia Swarm were in town with a score to settle from last Saturday. The Bandits went down to Gas South Arena last weekend and stung the Swarm 18-9, so presumably Georgia wanted to give it right back. The game from this Saturday was far different. With 37 combined penalty minutes in the contest, Buffalo snuck out with an 11-9 victory, taking both games of the home and home.

“I think we just have to keep doing the little things,” said Brandon Robinson before the game. “Last week is over with, we know they’re going to give us a better game tonight, and we’re ready.”

To set the stage: game one was a scoring fest, obviously. Georgia switched between goaltenders throughout the entire game, and Buffalo was seemingly scoring at will. Game two was much more physical and chippy. After a very tight second half, this contest came down to the very end. Let’s do it.

Buffalo jumped out to an early three-goal lead. Dhane Smith, Kyle Buchanan and Josh Byrne all lit the lamp. To quote a dear friend of mine, “The man cannot score a boring goal.” Buchanan found himself behind the net as Buffalo set up shop with an extra attacker. He received a pass and dunked from behind the net. Sick stuff from Bucky, who has been a key part of this Buffalo offense.

Alright, let the physical calamity ensue. After a Buffalo penalty, Lyle Thompson buried a power play goal to get the Swarm on the board. Byrne and Thompson showed out in this game. At the 4:00 mark, Brad McCulley and Adam Wiedemann had a disagreement about dinner plans, presumably, and dropped the mitts. I would say cooler heads prevailed, but three more dead ball fouls came after that. Byrne notched his second goal and Brendan Bomberry got his first on the power play to end the quarter. 4-2 Buffalo after one.

To start the second, Thompson got his second goal of the game, again on the power play. On the ensuing face off, Max Adler, who is usually a FOGO (faceoff, get off), took the ball into the Swarm zone and hit a streaking Steve Priolo, who buried his shot.

Excuse me, while I call SportsCenter for this next one. Byrne took the ball into the offensive zone, waited for a couple of picks and fired a behind-the-back shot that beat Brett Dobson for his hat trick. Whew.

Physicality, scoring, great goaltending. This game had everything you could ask for. Georgia needed an answer, and fast. A three-goal run should suffice. Ryan MacSpadyen and Wiedemann each got their first, and Thompson got his hat trick. Stunned silence in KeyBank Center. That’s how the quarter would finish, deadlocked at six.

Dobson struggled in game one of the home and home. He definitely found his stride in game two. The rookie made 24 saves on 30 shots. Matt Vinc was just doing Matt Vinc things. The veteran also stopped 24 of 30.

Let the teeter-totter second half begin. Georgia got their first lead of the game courtesy of Bomberry burying his second goal of the night. Byrne got his fourth, but was answered shortly thereafter by Thompson’s fourth, again on the power play. Byrne answered right back with a power play tally of his own and then another highlight-reel goal. They don’t split his name with “air” for nothing. His patented jumpman shot gave him his sixth goal of the night. Buffalo led 9-8 after three.

The fourth quarter was definitely slower paced than the previous three. Buchanan scored the first goal of the frame at the 6:58 mark and gave Buffalo an important two-goal lead. Bryan Cole answered right back, however. With 1:20 remaining, Byrne caused a turnover and found Ian MacKay streaking off the bench. Mickey buried his shot, and the roof almost blew off the arena. Thompson thought he got his fifth with under a minute left, but the goal was disallowed due to a crease violation. Your final from Buffalo, 11-9 Bandits.

Players of the game for Buffalo were Byrne (6+3), Buchanan (2+2) and Smith (1+5). Vinc showed why he is world class, standing tall down the stretch. He made 47 saves on 56 shots in the contest. For Georgia, Thompson (4+2), Bomberry (2+1) and Shayne Jackson (four assists) led the way. Dobson looked a million times better than last week, but came up a bit short in this one. The youngster stopped 45 of 56.

“As expected, it was a much different game than last week,” said John Tavares. “They were athletic, they were desperate. They were going into it 0-3.”

Bandits’ captain Steve Priolo had quite a bit to say postgame.

“It’s tough playing a team back-to-back. You’re making all sorts of adjustments, even after a win in Georgia. We tried to focus on cross-checking, but we have to find a way to stay out of the box. That’s a game within a game.”

Buffalo (4-1) sits in second place in the East Division. They travel to Rochester to take on the undefeated Knighthawks (5-0) this Friday night at 7:30 pm. Buckle up for that one. As for Georgia (0-4), they have a few weeks off to collect themselves and refocus. Their next game is in Colorado (3-1), February 3rd at 9:00 pm.