Whenever the Buffalo Bandits play the Toronto Rock, one point is at the top of the to-do list: Stay out of the penalty box.
On Saturday night, the Bandits received a reminder why.
The Rock scored four power-play goals in earning a 14-12 win over the Bandits before 14,918 in the First Niagara Center. That total doesn’t reflect the fact that Toronto scored twice on delayed penalties to Buffalo when it could replace its goalie with an extra attacker.
The Rock win snapped Buffalo’s three-game winning streak in a matchup between the two top teams in the National Lacrosse League’s East Division.
“This is one of the dumbest teams around,” Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. “You can’t take penalties against these guys, and we had two five-minute majors.”
One of those majors was called on veteran Billy Dee Smith. He was called for a delayed penalty for slashing, and then picked up an extra five minutes for decking Toronto’s Scott Evans after Evans had scored. Kilgour was particularly upset about that play by a veteran.
“The five was bad enough, but he got two on top of that. We can’t do that against these guys,” he said.
Toronto scored two power-play goals during that penalty in taking an early lead. Then in the fourth quarter, rookie Hayden Smith picked up a high-sticking major with less than eight minutes to go. Colin Doyle scored one goal on a delayed penalty, and added another on the power play to give the Rock some breathing room in the final minutes.
“We feel like we gave this one away with some undisciplined play,” Bandits’ defenseman Scott Self said. “It really cost us the game.”
Whenever the Rock had an extra man, it sent out such forwards as Doyle, Blaine Manning, Stephan Leblanc, Josh Sanderson and Kasey Beirnes. The group has been playing together for a while now, and its ball movement might be unmatched in the NLL.
“When you get power-play opportunities, in the game of lacrosse you have to take advantage of those penalties,” Toronto coach Troy Cordingley said. “We tried to build up a big lead when we got them.”
“We want to play clean, hard lacrosse,” Buffalo’s Mark Steenhuis said. “In both of our losses we’ve had more than 20 penalty minutes.”
This particular renewal of the Buffalo-Toronto rivalry had plenty of ebb and flow. The Rock took control in the first half for a while, jumping to a 7-2 lead with only three minutes left in the first half. But Buffalo came back on goals by David Brock, Nick Cotter and Steenhuis to narrow the margin to two goals by halftime.
Then Aaron Wilson took over the game from a Buffalo perspective on offense, as he scored three goals in the third quarter. The second goal tied the game, 7-7, and the third one cut Toronto’s lead to 9-8 at the end of 45 minutes.
“I put Aaron Wilson right there with Kasey Beirnes as one of the best off-ball players in the league,” Cordingley said.
“We think we’re pretty resilient,” Steenhuis said. “There was no panic when we got down by five. We’re confident that we can post some numbers and get the momentum.”
The Bandits got within a goal again early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t capitalize further on a five-minute power play of their own. Then Doyle (eight points) took charge like the veteran he is.
“What Colin’s done in this game is like what John Tavares can do. When the game is on the line, he will take his team to a win. That’s why they are elite players,” Cordingley said.
The Rock also finished with an edge in goaltending. Buffalo finished with a 57-46 edge in shots. However, goalie Nick Rose of Toronto finished with 45 saves. The Rock seemed able to solve Anthony Cosmo of the Bandits when they needed a score in clutch situations.
“Cos has to make some saves for us,” Kilgour said. “Rose had a good game.
“I told the guys I’m proud of their effort, but I’m not proud of the penalties. ... Lately we’ve had to outscore the other teams, and that’s not what we’re about.”
When the game was over, the Bandits slipped to 3-2 and thus missed a chance to take over first place in the NLL East. The Rock improved to 5-1.
“These games show how we measure up to the teams in the division, and playing for first place added to that,” Steenhuis said. “We wanted to send a message to them. ... We don’t want to give up losses at home.”
Buffalo finishes a three-game home stand next week against Rochester.