By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The Buffalo Bandits went on their first losing streak of the season when it mattered the most.
The Bandits dropped a 14-13 overtime decision to the Roughnecks in Calgary; Rhys Duch scored the game-winner. The Roughnecks therefore captured the National Lacrosse League championship, two games to none over Buffalo.
The Bandits had played their first 20 games this season without losing two in a row. Buffalo went 14-4 in the regular season, and then won two straight playoff games to reach the finals. However, the Roughnecks solved Buffalo in back-to-back matchups to take their first championship since 2004, when they also defeated the Bandits.
The series was similar to the Buffalo’s last visit to the finals, which came in 2016. Then the Bandits rallied to tie Saskatchewan late in Game Two after losing the opener at home. However, Jeff Cornwall’s goal with 14 seconds gave the Rush the game and the championship.
This contest lasted even longer. Calgary had a 12-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter when Buffalo rallied. Jordan Durston and Dhane Smith tied the score with less than four minutes to go.
And then the game became really frantic. Dane Dobbie put Calgary ahead, 13-12, with 54.8 seconds to go in regulation, but Corey Small tied it the Bandits with about 27 seconds. That led to overtime. After Buffalo missed a couple of chances on the first possession, Duch scored to give Calgary the win at 1:12 of overtime.
“I shot the ball far side all game, so I thought I shoot it short-side once,” he said.
Shawn Evans and Smith had seven points each for Buffalo, while Durston and Chase Fraser added three goals each. Dane Dobbie, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the finals, had four goals and three assists to lead the Roughnecks.
In the opening game of the series in Buffalo last week, the teams couldn’t put much on the scoreboard in the early going. The Bandits and Roughnecks combined for a total of four goals in the first 30 minutes.
This was different, much different. The team combined for four goals in the first 10 minutes of the contest, and the pace continued throughout the half. Calgary had the better of the scoring, at least eventually.
The Roughnecks picked up two of the first three goals of the game. The Bandits responded with three straight goals (Cloutier, Fraser and Small) to take a 4-2 lead with about 11 minutes gone in the first period. The teams traded scores from there, so it was 5-3, Buffalo very early in the second period.
Then Calgary grabbed control of the game. The Roughnecks scored five straight goals to take an 8-5 lead. Three of the goals came on the power play to mark a half filled with such scores. Calgary went 4 for 4 in the opening 30 minutes with the man-advantage, while Buffalo was 2 for 3. The Bandits looked like they would take a little momentum into the locker room when Fraser scored again with about eight seconds left, but Dane Dobbie answered with one second left to make it 9-6.
It wasn’t the best of halves for Vinc and the defense. However, the unit has shown an ability to have a short memory of such stretches in game. In other words, the Bandits tightened up on defense. Calgary only scored one goal in the third quarter, a power-play tally by Dobbie, while Buffalo notched four to tie the game with 15 minutes to go. Jordan Durston had two of the goals. It was back and forth from there until Buffalo didn’t have a chance to respond to the final goal.
“Outstanding team and goaltending,” Roughnecks coach Curt Malawsky said about the Bandits. “They didn’t give an inch, we didn’t give an inch. It was two great teams going at it.”
The last time an NLL Final finished with an overtime goal was in 2017, when Miles Thompson scored to give Georgia a two games to none win over Saskatchewan.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)