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  • Budd Bailey

Bandits win a classic in overtime

Updated: Apr 28

By Budd Bailey

There’s a new addition to the list of the most exciting playoff games in the history of the Buffalo Bandits.

Buffalo’s thrilling 10-9 overtime victory over the Georgia Swarm at the KeyBank Center on Saturday night won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“It’s giving me a heart attack,” Bandits’ coach John Tavares quipped.“It’s very fun, especially when you play in this building,”

Buffalo’s Ian MacKay added. “It was a little too close for comfort. Credit to them – they held us to a tight game. Both goalies played unbelievably well.”

Josh Byrne’s goal at 4:01 of the extra period ended the tension that had lasted almost right from the beginning of the contest. If you like a little history with your lacrosse, consider that this was only the second overtime playoff win in Bandits’ history. The first one came in 1992, when Tavares scored with a famous behind-the-back shot against Philadelphia to give Buffalo a championship in its initial season of play. You've probably already figured out that this was the Bandits' first overtime playoff win at home in history.

This goal was merely in a best-of-one elimination game in the opening round – which was more than good enough for the 17,875 in the building. After all, the fans here never had the chance to celebrate an overtime win in person before.

Both teams had some chances in the extra session, but Byrne of course was the one to break through. The league’s leading scorer took a long shot from the middle of the field that would have been worth three points had it been taken on a basketball court. The ball went through traffic on a low trajectory, past goalie Brett Dodson, and into the net.

“(Chris Cloutier) was telling me where to go,” said Byrne, who finished with five goals. “He had a huge stopped turnover to prevent them from breaking down the floor. He set a massive pick and did all the work. I don’t think he gets enough credit.”

A close game was expected by most people going into the contest. After all, it was a matchup of the teams that finished fourth and fifth in the NLL’s regular season standings. Georgia had come into Buffalo earlier in the season and won by a score of 9-8 back on December 29.

This one followed a similar path as the previous meeting. The Swarm did a good job of defending the Bandits’ set offense in the first half. Georgia had the edge in shots, and Byrne and Dhane Smith weren’t effective in the first 20 minutes. Had it not been for the transition goals by MacKay and Nick Weiss, Buffalo might have been in a big hole. The score was fittingly tied at 5-5 at the half.

Midway through the third quarter, it seemed as if the Bandits had taken advantage of a huge break. Bryan Cole of Georgia was called on a major penalty for boarding, and Buffalo quickly capitalized with two goals on the ensuing power play (the NLL maximum for scores in that situation). With the score 8-5 for the Bandits, the game finally seemed to be heading in one team’s direction.

“It felt like a bit of a swing,” Byrne said. “But then they went on a four-goal swing. Give credit to Dobson and the defense. They all played unreal.”

Trailing by 9-8 with about six minutes to go, Kyle Buchanan used some veteran know-how to be in the right spot in the right time. He stuffed home a rebound to tie the game. For the rest of regulation, the drama built with each failed possession.

“You have to have a goalie mentality,” MacKay said. “It’s just a quick reset. The goal from there is to not let another one in.”

For a moment, it looked like that drama had ended at the last possible instant. The Bandits had the ball with only six seconds left in regulation when they moved up the field very quickly. Smith took a shot from the high slot that beat Dobson and went into the net right about the time that the period was expiring. The roar was amazing. Still, no one knew for sure if Smith had been a winner at “Beat the Clock.”

“I thought the ball went in until I watched it … and obviously it was not a goal,” Tavares said.

The ball crossed the line less than a tenth of a second too late; it was only a few feet away from counting when the green light went on.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” MacKay added. “It was the highest of highs, but it brought us down pretty quick. But it manufactured energy for us for overtime. We could have been negative about it, but everyone was positive.”

Overtime was next, and Tavares had to think about the deflating effect that the play might have on his team.

“I was definitely worried about it,” he said. “I was nervous for the next possession that they had. But I thought our defense was stellar, and Matt (Vinc, the goalie) played unbelievable. Our defense won the game.

“Earlier in the year we were finding ways to lose these games. Now we’re finding a way to win.”

Once Byrne ended the suspense, the Bandits could exhale and enjoy the victory. And yet talk had to turn to the next game, as it inevitably does at this time of the year. Earlier in the day, the Toronto Rock had defeated Rochester in another first-round game. It sets up a match between two old rivals – a best-of-three series. It is scheduled to open Friday in Hamilton, followed by a Sunday game at 5 p.m. in Buffalo (there’s a concert here on Saturday). A third game (if necessary) would follow the following Saturday night on Toronto’s turf.

The Rock had the best record in the league at 15-3 during the regular season, and goalie Nick Rose is coming off a season in which he led the team in all three major statistical categories. That’s a big mountain to climb.

On the other hand, the Bandits beat Toronto in both of their regular-season meetings this year. They beat the Rock in two straight playoff games last season. They sent the Rock home in 2022 … and 2019 … and 2014. It’s been 12 years since Toronto eliminated Buffalo from the postseason.

“It’s always fun,” MacKay said about the prospect of playing Toronto. “It’s probably the best rivalry in lacrosse. We’ve had the better end of it recently, and hopefully that continues. They were at the top of the league, and are a very talented team from tough to bottom.”

“We’ve got a long road ahead,” Tavares added. “They’re a tough team. They’re looking forward to playing us, and it’s going to be a tough battle.”

Even so – it’s has a tough act to follow in Round One.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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