BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Bandits are defending champions in the East Conference, having conquered the Rock on their past two trips to the National Lacrosse League finals. Buffalo earned the top seed in this postseason by beating Toronto twice in three regular season matchups.
Yet the Bandits entered the East finals with a chip on their shoulder, perceiving themselves to be underdogs against a high-scoring Rock team that boasted a greater goal differential and one blowout victory against the Bandits this season.
That competitive edge propelled the Bandits to another big playoff win Friday night, 14-5 against the Rock in the opening game of the best-of-three East finals in front of 11,510 fans at KeyBank Center.
Buffalo now heads the Rock’s home turf at FirstOntario Center in Hamilton on Saturday night, one win away from returning to the NLL finals for the 12th time in team history. The third game in the series will be played next Saturday in Banditland, if necessary.
After scoring 20 goals for the third time ever in last week’s quarterfinal win against Rochester, the Bandits held an opponent to five goals for just the second time in 96 playoff games since 1992.
Goaltender Matt Vinc stopped 52 of 57 shots for a .912 save percentage that set a franchise record for the postseason. The 40-year-old making his 41st playoff start, an NLL record, didn’t allow a goal during over an 18:53 stretch that included that entirety of the third quarter. The Bandits scored seven goals during the stretch to build a 13-4 lead entering the fourth.
Josh Byrne led the attack with five goals, putting the Bandits ahead in the opening 30 seconds and scoring twice in 29 seconds to make it 6-3 early in the second quarter. Byrne also had two assists.
Dhane Smith assisted on eight goals, while Tehoka Nanticoke (two goals, one assist), Chris Cloutier (two goals, one assist), Kyle Buchanan (one goal, two assists), Chase Fraser (two goals) and Justin Robinson (goal, assist) all tallied multiple points. Ian MacKay had a single tally, but it was a highlight, as the transition player created a steal and ran the length of the floor to score on a breakaway in the third, a repeat of his game-changing goal in the quarterfinal win.
Just once before had the Bandits won a playoff game by nine goals. They’ve now done it in each of the first two contests of this postseason.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.