BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Bandits rediscovered their scoring touch at the end of an injury-riddled regular season, and it carried over to the most emphatic playoff victory in franchise history.
Buffalo rolled along into to the National Lacrosse League semifinals for the 19th time since 1992 with a 20-8 thumping of thruway rival Rochester before 14,794 revelers in Banditland on Saturday night.
The dozen-goal differential marked the first time in 52 postseason wins that the Bandits triumphed by 10 tallies or more. The 20 goals tied for the second most in a playoff game, and were more than the Bandits scored in any game this season.
“When we are clicking and rolling on all cylinders, it’s fun to watch,” said goaltender Matt Vinc, who saved 46 of 53 shots he faced in 54 minutes before exiting to an ovation. “It just shows what we are capable of when we have everyone healthy and in the lineup.
Reigning league MVP Dhane Smith (three goals, seven assists) and co-star Josh Byrne (four goals, six assists) each had 10 points on a night when 11 Bandits combined for 50 tallies on the scoresheet. Chris Cloutier (three goals, five assists), Kyle Buchanan (three goals, two assists), Ian MacKay (two goals, three assists), Tehoka Nanticoke (two goals, two assists), Chase Fraser (one goal, two assists), and defensive captain Steve Priolo (goal, assist) all notched multiple points.
Buffalo will open the East division finals against Toronto on Friday night at KeyBank Center, and travel up the QEW for the second game in the best-of-three series on Saturday.
The Bandits secured home-floor advantage for the NLL playoffs with the best record in the regular season (14-4). But with Byrne, Nanticoke and Fraser all missing games due to injury, the Bandits attack suffered, scoring just below 12 goals per game to rank seventh in the 14-team league, and late rallies resulted in several narrow wins.
“We found ways to win,” Smith said. “Finding ways to put the ball in the net wasn’t easy. It was a struggle at times. There were a lot of low-scoring games. But getting healthy, having Tehoka and Chase in the lineup, it’s crazy. So it’s nice to be out there with those guys.”
Smith, who set an NLL record with 96 assists while scoring 36 goals, noted the difference from a year ago, when the Bandits had the same record but led the league in scoring (13.7 per game) before losing in the championship finals against Colorado.
“Last year, I think we were a little bit cocky and thought we were the team to beat,” Smith said. “Now they are saying Toronto is. Which is awesome. He have a chip on our shoulder right. IT was next man up mentality.”
The Bandits didn’t need a 20-goal outburst to beat the Knighthawks in the first playoff meeting between the teams since Buffalo owners Terry and Kim Pegula acquired the Rochester expansion franchise in 2018.
Vinc, the Canisius College graduate who won three championships for Rochester before the original franchise moved to Halifax, was sterling from the start of his 40th playoff extending an NLL record owned by Bandits coach John Taveres (38) before last year.
“It gives everybody a lot more confidence knowing he’s back there,” Tavares said. “He’s definitely the backbone to our team. He’s playing well like that, guys can take more risk, they can leak early.”
The 40-year-old Vinc stopped all 15 shots he faced in the first quarter, improving to 26-14 all-time in the postseason.
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Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.