By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The KeyBank Center was the place to be on Saturday night if you wanted to see outstanding goaltending in an indoor lacrosse game.
Matt Vinc of the Buffalo Bandits and Nick Rose of the Toronto Rock put on one of the great two-man exhibitions in memory. Rose had more saves – 53 to 36 – but Vinc allowed fewer goals – 6 to 8. The result was an 8-6 win by the Bandits that kept them in first place by themselves in the National Lacrosse League’s East Division.
“Rose, I don’t know how he did it tonight,” Buffalo forward Josh Byrne said. “He made one on (Jordan Durston) that was unbelievable. Vino was lights out as usual. When we let our guard down for a moment, our defense and goaltending were there.”
Vinc added, “The score was indicative of how the game went. Nick played extremely well. He made the stops on the first and second opportunities that we had. He gave his team a chance to win, which is all you can ask.”
It was the lowest-scoring game of the Bandits’ season so far, and the first one to be won by a team that didn’t reach double digits in goals.
A tough travel day
The schedule-maker had something to say about this one, as the Rock had played in Georgia on Friday night while the Bandits were relaxing at home. Toronto got clobbered, 14-5, on the road, and figured to be in a feisty mood a night later in Buffalo. Sure enough, the Rock were solid in taking a 4-0 lead after one period of play.
But Vinc acted as if enough was enough the rest of the way, allowing only two goals in the final 45 minutes.
“The great ones put goals behind them,” co-coach John Tavares said. “That why he’s one of the best goalies in the world.
“It wasn’t that slow of a start for us, at least it didn’t seem that slow. The guys were working hard, but on their chances they couldn’t put the ball in the net. But in the second quarter, we we did the same thing they did by getting a 4-0 edge.”
After more than seven minutes of scoreless play to start the second half, Byrne figured out a way to beat Rose. It was his second goal of the game, and it came in his return to duty after a couple of months on the sidelines with a knee injury.
“It’s been a grueling couple of months,” Byrne said. “I’ve been going crazy in my place. It’s great to get back. … I tore the meniscus in my knee, and had surgery. Lately I’ve just been fighting the swelling.”
Byrne’s return was needed because Chase Fraser is on the sidelines with a lower-body injury. Then Dhane Smith added a goal late in the third period, and Buffalo was up by a pair.
Slamming the door
Toronto ended a scoring drought of 32 minutes and 13 seconds when Johnny Powless scored, but Smith completed his hat trick in response. The teams traded goals after that, and Vinc blanked the Rock in the final 11:35 to finish off the victory.
“In the second, third and fourth quarters, we really buckled down and played good defense,” Vinc said. “After Toronto had some success, we did a great job of eliminating their time and space.”
The Bandits improved to 12-3 on the season, and lead the league in wins. They already have clinched a playoff spot, but now home-field advantage in the postseason is on their minds. Georgia is only a game back at 11-4, while Toronto is not completely out of the picture at 8-5 – but this was a damaging loss to the Rock.
“Every game is huge,” Smith said. “It’s never easy to win in this league, especially against the top teams in the East.”
“We want to be playing in Buffalo,” Tavares said about the playoffs. “We still have three games to go. A loss here, or two losses there and we still could be third or fourth. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)