By Budd Bailey
For all of you who expected the winless Georgia Swarm to roll over and play dead while playing the Buffalo Bandits for the second straight week … well, sorry to disappoint you.
No, the Bandits couldn’t duplicate their outstanding performance last week in suburban Atlanta, running away that time with an 18-9 decision. But in the rematch at the KeyBank Center on Saturday night, Buffalo still came away with an 11-9 victory before 14,189.
“As expected, it was a much different game than last week,” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “They were athletic. They were desperate. They were going into it 0-3, and they always play us tougher here than in Georgia.”
“Any team with Lyle (Thompson) on it, you can never take them lightly,” defenseman Steve Priolo added. “It’s tough playing a team back-to-back. You’re making all sorts of adjustments, even after a win in Georgia. You really have to focus and not take them lightly.”
It didn’t seem like a different type of game at the beginning. Buffalo scored the first three goals in the opening half of the first period, as Dhane Smith, Kyle Buchanan and Josh Byrne doing the honors. But then the penalties started to come for the Bandits, and the resulting power plays resulted in power-play goals for Georgia. Thompson and Brendan Bomberry got the Swarm to within 4-2 after a period, and Thompson soon narrowed the gap to 4-3.
“I feel like we get into penalty trouble a little too often,” Byrne said. “That starts with me. I took two penalties tonight. One was 200 feet from our goal, and the other was at the midline. If you are going to take penalties, you can live with the ones in front of our cage, but I can’t be doing that.”
“I didn’t feel like we were overly aggressive in the first half to have that more penalties, but they were 6-1,” Tavares said. “That was my complaint.”
Even after Buffalo rebuilt its lead to 6-3, Georgia wasn’t done. The Swarm picked up its first even-strength goal at 10:55 of the second period, and within a blink (three minutes, actually) the game was tied at 6-6. And when the Bandits went down two men to start the second half, Bomberry’s goal put the Swarm ahead for the first time.
“We kept getting in trouble on holding calls,” Priolo said. “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. We didn’t do a good job staying out of the box.”
Luckily for the Bandits, Byrne took matters into his own hands. Buffalo had three goals in the third period, and Byrne had all of them. That gave him six for the night – his second straight “sock trick” in a home game. At least the fans were more prepared this time, throwing some socks on to the field after Byrne’s sixth broke an 8-8 tie and gave the Bandits the lead for good.
“I have seen him play better, but he’s definitely at the top of his game,” Tavares said. “I’ve been preaching that we attack by committee. When you get one guy scoring a majority of goals, the other guys sit back. I’d rather get the other guys some goals.”
Byrne turned passer in the fourth quarter, getting a couple of assists on Buffalo goals including a beauty to Ian MacKay on a two-on-one that restored Buffalo’s lead to 11-9 with 1:20 left. But it still wasn’t over. With about 15 seconds left, Thompson seemed to put his fifth goal of the night in the net … only to have the officials wave it off because a teammate had a toe in the goal crease.
The morale of that story? “Don’t let Lyle shoot. It didn’t go well,” Priolo said. “We didn’t execute. That was the first thing we talked about in the room afterwards. Our six-on-five needs to be better.”
The Bandits managed to kill off the final seconds to claim their fourth straight win, although Byrne got knocked to the turf at the buzzer which set off a bit of a minor skirmish. (“It’s just lacrosse; you’re going to get hit,” Byrne said later.) It was time for Buffalo to get ready to start a three-game road trip next week. First place in the East will be at stake when the Bandits play the Knighthawks in Rochester. Yes, those are the Knighthawks that had been doing an impression of an NLL doormat since their rebirth as an expansion team. But Rochester is 4-0 heading into Sunday’s game with New York.
“I thought they were strong last year, but they just couldn’t find a way to win,” Tavares said. “This year they are finding ways to win and you’re getting confident.”
“The East is so tight. That will be a chance to see where we stand,” Priolo said. “They have a lot of ex-Bandits, what with expansion and trades. I’m looking forward to that. It should be really exciting. It will be a good test for us.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)
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