The Buffalo Bandits came oh-so-close to sweeping a big series of back-to-back games this week – 3.7 seconds, in fact. Instead, they’ll get to spend the next week thinking about what might have been.
The Philadelphia Wings stormed back from a 10-7 lead with 6 minutes left, scoring the tying goal in the final moments, and went on to a stunning 11-10 win over the Bandits Friday night. Drew Westervelt’s goal 2:14 into extra time disappointed the 14,636 in attendance in the First Niagara Center.
Buffalo was coming off a big win on Thursday night in Toronto. Another win would have moved the Bandits into a tie with the Rock for first place in the National Lacrosse League’s East Division. Instead, Buffalo is left with a 5-4 record, a full game behind the 6-3 Rock and a half-game behind 5-4 Philadelphia.
“There’s a lot of parity in this league,” Bandits forward John Tavares said. “No one will go 14-2 this year. You can go from first to last in no time.”
Buffalo no doubt will be thinking about how this one slipped away for some time to come. Philadelphia coach Johnny Mouradian tried to pick up the tempo in the late going in an effort to push Buffalo’s gas tank toward empty when it was finishing its second game in two nights.
“Our defense is athletic and very aggressive, so we play that way,” he said. “We pressed up as they came across and tried to get the ball back.”
Westervelt and Paul Rabil got the Wings within one. Philadelphia even gained a power play with 2:09 left. But the Bandits killed off some of that time nicely, and coach Darris Kilgour thought the shot clock could have been reset in Buffalo’s favor a couple of times.
“We outplayed them. We should have won. It was taken away from us in the last two minutes,” he said.
Jordan Hall slipped a shot past Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo with 3.7 seconds left to play, and the game was headed to overtime.
“Three seconds – it’s so frustrating to lose those sorts of games,” Buffalo’s Luke Wiles said.
Both sides had a couple of possessions in overtime, but Westervelt capitalized on his chance to decide matters.
“He was shooting some shots that we said, maybe you’re trying to go too far outside, so we told him to go inside,” Mouradian said.
The Bandits were in control of this one for much of the contest. The first half featured plenty of physical play, and Buffalo got the better of the penalty calls. The Bandits scored four power-play goals in the first half alone. Wiles had three of them as Buffalo took a 6-2 lead after 30 minutes.
The Wings made it interesting as the Bandits came out a little flat in the third quarter for the second straight night. Buffalo’s lead shrunk to two goals at 9-7.
“You’re not going to shut down a team forever,” Kilgour said. “They’re going to get some goals.”
Still, the Bandits received an important goal about three minutes into the fourth quarter by Jon Harasym for insurance. As time wound down, it looked as Buffalo was ready to earn a big sweep over its division rivals. Instead, it was Philadelphia that gained ground on both Buffalo and Toronto this week to further tighten a division race that is completely up for grabs.
The Bandits played eight of their first nine games against division opponents. Now they have five of their remaining games against teams from the West. It starts a week from tonight at home.
“We’ve got a pretty good Colorado team coming in now,” Wiles said. “We’ve got to study some tape and get back to work.”