By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The perfect script for an exciting win in indoor lacrosse is for a team to score the tying goal in the final seconds of regulation time, and then win it a couple of minutes into overtime.
By that exacting standard, the Buffalo Bandits had a very exciting win on Friday night. In fact, they may have overdone it.
Buffalo rallied to defeat the Rochester Knighthawks, 16-15, before 10,978 in the KeyBank Center. That makes it four wins in a row for the Bandits – the last two coming in overtime, no less.
Let’s take a close look at the thrilling finish. Buffalo had the ball with 11.6 seconds to go in regulation, and had pulled the goaltender for a six-on-five advantage.
“We had a feeling that Paul Dawson was going to lock off Dhane (Smith),” Chris Cloutier said. “When it’s that late in the game, you’ve got to think the ball is going to Dhane. He’s our best player. We planned for it. I was going to take it and step in until someone came to me. No one came to me, so I just had to shoot it. Luckily it went in.”
“I noticed the first time when we pulled our goalie (on a delayed penalty) that we were blocking me off a little bit,” Smith added. “We didn’t score. I told them, they were going to double me again, and Josh (Byrne) said, let it happen because they’ll be one guy open. Cloutier put it home, and it was nice.”
Here is the game-tying goal by Cloutier. pic.twitter.com/qSY0aYVX1S
— Budd Bailey (@WDX2BB) February 1, 2020
How thrilling was it from a Buffalo standpoint? The Bandits’ scoresheets go back to 2005. Cloutier’s score, with 7.1 seconds left, was the latest game-tying goal by the team in that entire time span.
Bu the goal only earned the Bandits a chance to keep playing. Both teams had a chance to score early but didn’t. Then came a huge break for Buffalo when Dawson was called for holding at 1:45. An overtime power play is a bit rare, but it is always appreciated.
It only took eight seconds to complete a three-way tic-tac-toe passing play, with Corey Small finishing the play on the right wing with a perfect shot to the short side, to finish things off.
“I think I said on the floor, that was about 80 percent Dhane Smith and about 20 percent me,” Small said. “He made the play call on the bench. He told me to find a lane backside and keep your stick open and I’ll find you. That’s pretty much how it happened. Dhane does a great job of drawing the goalie out of the net and opening up the quick-sticks for me. We tried one earlier and it didn’t work, but this time we had the goalie focused on him and it opened up the back side.”
Small nets the overtime winner. pic.twitter.com/yIgtmArkQn
— Budd Bailey (@WDX2BB) February 1, 2020
Last week, he scored at 1:59 of overtime to give the Bandits a win over Colorado. On Friday, it took him 1:53.
“I feel like I thrive in those situations,” Small said. “I like having the ball with the game on the line. There are a lot of guys on the team that probably feel the same way, guys that have grown up being the leading scorers on their team. That’s a great option for us to have – six or seven guys who can do that. Two games in a row – it feels good.”
You might think that winning leads to more winning when it comes to close games. After all, Buffalo has won three straight in a similar way. If you did, you’d be wrong.
“Absolutely not, actually,” Cloutier said. “In this league, anyone can win a game. Rochester has had close games with teams all year. They are right in it with everyone. You have to bring your ‘A’ game every game of the season.”
Dhane is great
Smith was the catalyst for the Bandits’ offense throughout the evening. He finished with four goals and seven assists for 11 points.
The big finish was particularly thrilling for those in attendance because it was so unexpected. Buffalo was playing its first game ever against the rebooted Rochester franchise, which was reborn as an expansion team after the old one moved to Halifax. The Bandits seemed to be in good shape after 30 minutes, holding a 7-3 lead.
But the Knighthawks came out and hit the Bandits with five goals in the first six minutes of the third period. It turned into an 8-2 Rochester margin for the third period, and an 11-9 Knighthawks lead after three quarters.
“We had a lot of opportunities in transition in the first half, and if we had capitalized we would have opened that game up,” assistant coach Rusty Kruger said. “They made some adjustments, and it took us a while to get going in the second half.”
Buffalo got the game back to even early in the fourth period, and the game went back and forth in the final minutes. Shawn Evans, the ex-Bandit, put Rochester ahead by scoring his fourth goal with 1:49 left. Evans was let go in the expansion draft by Buffalo, and seemed to take a little delight in netting a go-ahead goal in that situation.
But that’s where his fun ended, and the Bandits’ joy began.
“That’s a character win,” Kruger said. “Give them full credit. That’s a good group over there. They pushed us tonight. It was good to handle adversity.”
“We’ve got to starting making it so that it’s not that close,” Cloutier added.
Buffalo is off to Vancouver next Friday, and then will play in Toronto a week from Sunday.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)