Buffalo Bandits’ games have become so exciting lately that even their coach can’t bear to view the finish.
“I’ve gotten into the habit of not watching the last seconds of a game,” Darris Kilgour said. “The last couple of years, it seemed like every time we had to stop someone, we didn’t. It wasn’t working. I switched it up this year. I walk away and Teeter [assistant coach Dan Teat] tells me what happened.”
Teat delivered good news for the second straight week, as the Bandits won yet another lacrosse thriller in the final minute. Luke Wiles’ goal with 23.6 seconds left lifted Buffalo to a 14-13 win over Philadelphia before 13,808 in the First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
The victory came only a week after Tracey Kelusky’s goal with 11.8 seconds left gave Buffalo a one-goal win in Rochester. Shawn Williams says easy wins are tough to come by.
“Are they ever?” he asked. “This is a little hard on the heart, but I like being on this side of the outcome.”
Even Wiles was a little surprised to be this night’s hero. The team’s leading goal-scorer only had two goals this season as Saturday’s game wound down.
“I can’t believe they even put me out there, the way I’ve been shooting,” Wiles said. “Johnny Tavares dragged it and Dhane Smith cut up the middle. Their guy creeped up a bit to leave me open. I just shot as hard as I could.
“It makes me feel good. I’ve been struggling. I’ve had trouble getting my green card so it’s been a struggle to get to practice [in Ontario]. It’s nice to get this goal and get the monkey off the back.”
There was one bit of drama left. The Wings had possession in the final seconds, and pulled their goaltender for a six-on-five advantage. Kevin Ross had a good chance with about four seconds left, but Buffalo goalie Anthony Cosmo made the last save of the night to preserve the victory.
“I had all the confidence in the world in them,” Kilgour said about his team. “There’s no panic. They’ve been coming through.”
It seemed likely that once again a Bandits’ game would come down to the last goal and the last shot of the night. The league has been filled with one-goal games so far this season, and Buffalo has won three straight games of that description.
“Teams never go away,” said Bandits’ forward Mike Hominuck, who had three goals for the second straight game. “All of the games are so tight, you can’t let up for one shift.”
This was a game in which the two sides traded runs. Buffalo scored three goals in the first three minutes and 16 seconds to take a 3-1 lead. By the time it scored again, more than 15 minutes had elapsed and Buffalo was down, 5-4. The Bandits had an 8-6 lead entering the final minute of the half, but gave up two goals to fall into a tie.
In the second half, Buffalo dominated the third quarter to take a 12-9 lead at one point, only to see Philadelphia score three straight goals to knot the score again. Tavares scored with 4:09 left to put Buffalo up a goal, and as the clock wound down it appeared that the Bandits would get away with a win relatively easily, at least as compared to last week.
But Drew Westervelt scored his third of the night, this time while the Wings were short-handed with 43 seconds left, to tie the game.
“That’s the trend this year – peaks and valleys,” Philadelphia coach Johnny Mouradian said. “They played well, but we were resilient.”
That set up the final seconds and the heroics of Wiles and Cosmo.
The offensive performance was particularly impressive on this night. The Wings hadn’t given up more than eight goals in any of its games this season, and goalie Brandon Miller had been sharp. But the Bandits went flying past that number just after halftime. Williams had six assists, all in the first half. Smith, Chad Culp and Dave Brock had two goals each.
The Bandits have been getting offense from all sorts of sources lately, which makes them tough to defend.
“They’ve all been getting playing time,” Kilgour said. “We’ve been running eight out the front door, which means only one guy has been double-shifting.”
“As you get older and smarter, you just play lacrosse,” Williams added. “You can’t overthink things.”
The result had all sorts of effects on the standings in the East Division. Toronto jumped into first place with a 4-1 record because of its win in Rochester. The Bandits are a half-game back at 3-1, and Philadelphia lost its first of the season to fall to 2-1. Rochester, merely the league’s defending champion, is now 0-3.
Saturday’s game marked the start of a three-game homestand against divisional rivals. It’s a good time for the Bandits to make a statement about where they rank in the four-team grouping.
“We talked about that before the game,” Kilgour said. “We want our home record to be 7-1 or 6-2, and we want to be 4-4 on the road. We haven’t been able to do that lately.”
Buffalo hosts Toronto on Saturday at First Niagara Center.