The Toronto Rock better watch out: the Buffalo Bandits are hot on their tail.
Buffalo won their fourth game in a row. This time, it was on the road against the Minnesota Swarm at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., cutting the Rock’s lead in the NLL Eastern Division to half a game.
Toronto has one more win than Buffalo, but the Bandits play five games in the final four weeks of the season, while the Rock will play four.
The season series so far is tied between Buffalo and Toronto with both teams winning at home in January. The Bandits and the Rock will face each other one more time before the end of the season, on Friday, Apr. 8 in a game that will likely decide who will be the top seed from the East in the postseason.
The notion that “defense wins championships” might end up ringing true for the Bandits, as they’ve allowed only 102 goals against this season, the lowest among NLL teams.
Buffalo’s strong defense begins in the cage, as goaltender Mike Thompson has had another successful year, posting a 9.26 goals against average and a 0.792 save percentage, both second highest in the league. Thompson also already has eight wins this season, which blows away his personal high of five wins which he obtained three times previously.
Thompson and the rest of the Bandits' offense was once again strong on Sunday afternoon, holding Minnesota’s Ryan Benesch and Callum Crawford, two of the best scorers in the league, to two goals each as Buffalo ran away with the 12-9 victory on national television.
Once again, it was Thompson that stepped up in the fourth quarter as Minnesota was attempting to erase a three goal deficit entering the stanza. Thompson finished with 39 saves on 48 shots.
“I thought Minnesota had a lot of chances tonight and if it wasn’t for Mikey Thompson, the score might have been worse,” said Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour. “He really saved us tonight, but we can’t have that same defensive effort next week against Washington.”
The Swarm (5-6) ended up scoring four times on Thompson in the fourth quarter, but the Bandits’ offense wasn’t done on their end, as Buffalo (8-3) also scored four times in the final period to pick up the victory.
Tracey Kelusky led all Buffalo scorers with three goals in the game while Mark Steenhuis and Chad Culp both finished with two goal evenings.
Buffalo will look to keep pace with Toronto next week, when they host the defending NLL Champion Washington Stealth at HSBC Arena on Saturday night, one night after the Rock play the Stealth in Toronto. The Bandits' schedule won’t get any easier after next weekend, when they play all of the Eastern teams to close out the season. The East currently has three teams with a record over .500, while the West only has one.
The Swarm’s second loss over the weekend prevents them from securing a playoff spot until possibly next weekend, when they play a home-and-home series with the Western Division leading Calgary Roughnecks.
Here is a look at the other five National Lacrosse League games in week 12 of the regular season.
Greer Leads Rush past Former Team
Recently acquired Zack Greer scored with four seconds remaining to help lift the Edmonton Rush to the 14-13 victory over the Minnesota Swarm on Friday at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
“We just stuck to it, stuck with the game plan, we never varied from it once, even when we got down late there, we still stuck with it,” said Edmonton head coach Derek Keenan. “Just a complete effort by the whole group.”
The Swarm held a two goal lead late in the game, but the Rush scored three goals in the final five minutes to give Edmonton (3-9) their third victory of the season and their first since Feb. 12.
Greer stuck it to his former team as he finished with five goals and two assists. Edmonton’s Scott Evans and Ryan Ward both had two goals each, while four Rush players found the back of the net once.
Ryan Benesch led Minnesota with four goals and four assists, while Mat Giles had three goals and three assists. Callum Crawford finished with three goals and two assists.
Edmonton will host Colorado next Friday, while Minnesota will look for the weekend split as they played Buffalo on Sunday.
Roughnecks Top Rock in Battle of NLL’s Best
The Calgary Roughnecks defeated the Toronto Rock 14-9 on Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome in what might have been a preview of the NLL Champions Cup Final.
“I don’t know if we are the number one team in the NLL, but we beat a very good lacrosse team tonight,” said Calgary head coach Dave Pym after the game.
Dane Dobbie led the Riggers with four goals and three assists, while Curtis Dickson and Jeff Shattler both finished with three goals. Shattler also added four assists.
Colin Doyle led the Rock (9-3), the team with the best record in the NLL, on the scoresheet with three goals and two assists, while Stephan Leblanc contributed one goal and five assists for Toronto.
The victory for the Roughnecks (9-3) extends their Western Division lead to three games while the Rock and the Buffalo Bandits are separated now by just a half game in the Eastern Division.
Toronto’s next game will be at home versus Washington next Friday, while Calgary will host Minnesota on the same night.
Stealth Capture Playoff Berth with Last Second Goal
Rhys Duch scored with two seconds left in the game to lift the Washington Stealth to the 9-8 win over the Boston Blazers and a spot in the postseason on Friday at Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash.
The Stealth (6-6) join the Calgary Roughnecks as the only two Western Division teams to solidify a playoff berth.
Duch added three assists to his game winning goal, while also picking up five loose balls in the game.
Boston’s Jamie Rooney had four goals and goaltender Anthony Cosmo made 41 saves on 50 shots.
Washington will head to Toronto next week, while Boston played at Colorado on Saturday to conclude their Western road trip.
Mammoth Get First Home Win in Almost Two Years
It took almost two years, but the Colorado Mammoth finally won at home.
The Mammoth scored three late goals to tie the contest and John Grant Jr. scored early in the overtime period to help lift Colorado to the 9-8 victory over the Boston Blazers on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“We took a big monkey off our back tonight,” said Colorado head coach Bob Hamley. “Big credit to the guys, down 8-5 and they just kept battling.”
In his first game with the Mammoth (2-8), Joel Dalgarno led all Colorado scorers with three goals. Dalgarno was acquired from Washington at the trade deadline last week.
Grant and Alex Gajic both finished with two goals each, while former Mammoth captain, Gavin Prout, finished with one goal and one assist in his first game since his return to the Mile High City.
For Boston (6-7), Casey Powell and Nick Cotter both had two goals while Josh Sanderson finished with a six-point effort, scoring one goal and adding five assists.
In net, Colorado’s Chris Levis made 38 saves on 46 shots and Boston’s Anthony Cosmo made 39 saves on 48 shots.
The Mammoth will look to get back into a playoff position, as they’ll play a home-and-home with the Edmonton Rush next week, while Boston will look to end a four game losing streak at home against Rochester on Saturday.
Knighthawks Extend Lead over Wings in Eastern Playoff Race
The Rochester Knighthawks used five fourth quarter goals to take the 13-10 victory from the Philadelphia Wings on Saturday at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
Rochester’s win also extends their lead to 2.5 games over Philadelphia (4-8) for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Division. The Knighthawks (6-5) have five games remaining while the Wings have four.
Philadelphia held a 9-8 lead going into the final quarter, but an early goal in the stanza by Jordan Hall helped begin Rochester’s run to victory.
Scott Campbell led the K-hawks with three goals while Craig Point, Cory Vitarelli, Cody Jamieson and Hall each scored twice.
Ryan Boyle had three goals for Philadelphia while teammate Brendan Mundorf had two goals and four assists for Philadelphia. Athan Iannucci and Drew Westervelt also had two goal nights.
The Wings will return home next Saturday when they host the Toronto Rock. Rochester will play the Blazers in Boston on the same night.