BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Even though they earned the top seed in the playoffs, the Bandits know the slate is wiped clean for everyone once the postseason starts.

“Obviously the season matters but playoffs matter that much more and kind of finding, hitting that groove at the right time and getting those home playoff games throughout the season is huge. We earned it playing as well as we did during the regular season but this is a new season,” Bandits forward Dhane Smith told News 4 Sports.

And that new season starts this Saturday against Albany, a team they beat twice to sweep the season series. But the stakes are so much higher this time around.

“It’s kind of scary that the first round is one and done but that being said but we have home floor advantage and we’re looking forward to that,” Smith said.

“It’s unbelievable to be able to play in Buffalo especially in the playoffs. You saw at our last game we had 13-14 thousand people there. It’s just an electric atmosphere. I grew up going to the games in Buffalo and watching playoff games and it’s almost like an unfair advantage. It’s great to be on Buffalo now and playing in Banditland especially going into the playoffs because our team thrives off it,” Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc told News 4 Sports.

It’s win or go home to start as the first round is a single-game elimination. Albany beat New York 17-9 in the regular season finale to clinch a playoff berth .The FireWolves are led by Hamburg native Joe Resetarits who’s coming off a five goal, six assist performance. He also finished the year tied for the most goals in the league with 47.

“I think we just gotta put him in positions where we feel we’re the most comfortable with him shooting the ball. Obviously he’s gonna break though and he’s probably gonna get a couple real good looks and probably score some goals but ultimately we wanna limit his time and space,” Vinc explained.

“He’s an incredible player. He had a great season, I think his best thus far and it’s gonna be hard shutting him down. But I think our defense is looking forward to that challenge, I really do because even the games that we’ve played them the past two games, he’s had a good number on us,” Smith said.

In the first meeting between Buffalo and Albany, Resetarits had two goals and three assists in a 13-8 Bandits win at home. The second time around Resetarits had four goals and two assists in Buffalo’s 12-11 overtime win in Albany.

“He’s still has done well against us and I think our defense is gonna make it a point to kind of give him a hard time. With those talented players like that you don’t try to shut them out you just try to slow them down and I think that’s what we’re going into this Saturday trying to do,” Smith said.

“We can’t let him just be able to dictate to us the pace of the game. I think if we can put him in those tougher spots, tougher lanes and stuff like that then hopefully we’ll be successful,” Vince pointed out.

While Albany’s coming hot having won three straight games, there are high expectations for Buffalo having once again finished as the top team in the league, just like in 2019.

“It’s tough when everybody talks about how we were kind of projected to win it all this year and that underdog mentality that Albany’s gonna be coming in with. That being said we just lost a game and they just won their game by quite a bit so we can kind of go into it thinking we’re the underdogs just as much as they can,” Smith said.

Smith also said he sees some similarities from that 2019 that also finished 14-4 and made it to the NLL Finals, but there’s one big, important difference as well.

“We’re a little big older now. That year we had a lot of rookies come in and we made it to the finals right away and they’re like ‘oh is it that easy to kind of make it to the finals?’ Where I’ve been in the league for nine, ten years and made it to the finals twice in that time and haven’t won a championship yet. So those guys didn’t really realize how hard it is to get back to the finals. So I think we’re more experienced now and our GM Steve Dietrich has done a great job bringing in new pieces in the draft and free agency,” Smith said.

The Bandits are looking for their first championship since 2008 and came close in 2019 but lost to Calgary in the finals. That was actually the last postseason game they played in since the season was cut short in 2020 with the start of the pandemic and last year there was no season with the uncertainties surrounding Covid. So losing in overtime to the Roughnecks in game two has stuck with these guys for a while.

“It kind of sat with me during the Covid year. Obviously we had two or three years off and all you could see is ‘oh Calgary’s still the champions’ and they just kept replaying it and kept replaying it.” Smith laughed.

“That being said coming into this season it’s a fresh start. We got to the point where we wanted to be and that’s hosting a first round playoff and we gotta focus game by game but at the end of the day our end goal is to win a championship and this is our first step this Saturday.”

Even though the game didn’t matter for seeding purposes, the Bandits are coming off a 10-7 loss to Toronto in the regular season finale where the Rock used a 9-2 second half run to win. And Buffalo’s using that loss as even more motivation.

“Losing that last game at home I think it kind of woke us up a little bit and I think going into the playoffs we’re a little bit hungrier,” Smith said.

“When you let a team back in the lead or back in there then they take over momentum. I think lacrosse is a game of runs so what we’ve gotta take from that is just because you’re up at half doesn’t mean you’re gonna be successful. I think we really gotta limit another team’s runs and be able to respond with a run of our own,” Vinc explained.

And while the Bandits need to account of Resetarits, the FireWolves have the tough task of trying to slow down Smith. He finished the regular season with a league high 135 points and 94 assists. Defensively Vinc finished with the most saves and wins in the league while ending second in save percentage.

These are two key pieces not only this year but they were back during the Bandits’ last run to the finals as well. And while they came up short back then, they’re trying to learn from that experience and use it to get over the hump this time around.

“I think we learned our lesson in 2019 that we can’t take anybody lightly and I think that’s what kind of happened in the Finals there. I think we’re older, we’re matured now and I think we have what it takes,” Smith said.

Face-off between the Bandits and FireWolves is set for 7:30 this Saturday night.