The Buffalo Bandits soundly defeated the San Diego Seals 18-7 in San Diego in a late Saturday night game this past weekend. The three stars of the game should come as no surprise – Shawn Evans, Jordan Durston and Matt Vinc. According to Nick Konotopskyj of bandits.com, “This was the Bandits 14th win on the regular season which sets a franchise record for wins in a season. They finished the 18-game slate at 14-4 and will be the No. 1 seed in the NLL playoffs.”
Although the playoff situation could not change for Buffalo based on the rankings, any viewer would have thought otherwise as Buffalo played like a team desperate for a win. They dominated San Diego after a brief 1-1 tie. Durston scored for Buffalo at 4:20 and Garrett McIntosh scored 26 seconds later to tie the game. After a brief 1-1 knot, it was Buffalo’s game for the rest of the quarter with goals coming from Chris Cloutier and Chase Fraser who each scored one. Durston added his second of the night, throwing a hard fake before putting a bullet past Frankie Scigliano. Shawn Evans’s backhand gave give Buffalo a 5-1 lead before the quarter ended.
San Diego appeared to come sailing back after being talked to by their coaches at the end of the first quarter. Joe Walters, Turner Evans and Dan Dawson all found the back of the net in a span of 3:20. Buffalo bounced back to set the pace for the rest of the quarter. Josh Byrne sandwiched a Corey Small marker, and Ian MacKay followed that with a goal at 12:57. With the Bandits up 9-4, the game seemed to quiet down then – that is, until the third quarter.
Dhane Smith started the scoring less than two minutes into the third before Durston’s hat trick goal that seemed to stun the fans. Fan favourite Joe Walters tried to revive the Seals. However, three quick goals by the Bandits seemed to silence the fans and “seal” the deal for Buffalo. Small added a goal for Buffalo 23 seconds later. Fraser added his second of the game just 27 seconds after that on a bounce shot. Nick Weiss finished up with the last goal of the quarter, completing a transition give-and-go with Kevin Brownell.
The fourth quarter had Mitch de Snoo find the back of the net before Chris Cloutier scored his second goal of the game. Dan Dawson countered with a dazzling goal that rivalled his first goal of the night. Evans responded by scoring his second of the night. Fraser scored his third to sweep up a hat trick. Connor Kelly found the back of the net at the end of the fourth quarter for his first goal of the night.
It must have been truly difficult to pick the stars of the game when everyone seemed to have an outstanding game for Buffalo. The team went 3-3 on their power plays, something they seem to have struggled with earlier in the season. Matt Vinc had 29 saves, proving that he might just be back to his MVP goal-saving days. Zach Higgins looked strong as well, letting in just two goals on 27 shots. And, as the league has come to expect over the years, it was Shawn Evans who led the team. Evans scored just two goals. However, he added six assists on the night which once again proved that he is dangerous even when he is not putting the ball in the back of the cage. He will be a particularly dangerous threat during the playoffs.
The Seals seem to be having a hard time without Austin Staats and this could mean trouble during playoffs. The team hasn’t had a lot of time to play high-calibre teams without Staats, something that is worrisome when fans consider who San Diego is likely to play during their playoff run. Guys like Brodie Merrill and Dan Dawson, who have been in high pressure situations before will be called on to use their leadership to help settle the younger guys down and help them find success – or the results will mean a quick exit for the Seals.
Buffalo next hosts New England on May 4th, while San Diego will host Calgary on May 6th.