TORONTO — Last year, the Buffalo Bandits lost six straight games down the stretch to spoil what looked like was going to be a very promising season.
The Bandits of 2014 lost their sixth straight game – tying a franchise record for longest losing streak – when they dropped a 13-9 decision to Toronto on Friday night. The loss came before 11,276 in the Air Canada Centre.
Such a collapse seemed unimaginable a few short weeks ago. Buffalo won eight of its first 10 games and was leading the National Lacrosse League East. Now the Bandits have fallen all the way back to .500 at 8-8. Their only consolation is that this year – unlike last season – they have a playoff spot wrapped up and know they’ll play Toronto … somewhere.
“I don’t know who is against us, whether we did something wrong to the lacrosse gods,” Buffalo goalie Anthony Cosmo said. “The bounces are not going our way right now. Those things tend to go in streaks. Before, the ball would bounce off the post right to one of our guys and they’d score, but it’s not happening now.”
The final score was not indicative of the type of game it was. The Rock was holding on to a 10-9 lead in the final minutes. Mark Steenhuis let go of a long shot that beat Toronto goalie Nick Rose cleanly, but the shot hit the post solidly and bounced away. A fraction of an inch, and the postgame discussion might have turned out to be much different.
“It’s like a roller-coaster,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “We’ve tried different approaches, but it’s kind of a snowball effect. We’re going downhill.”
This was something of an odd game in that the teams were fairly even for most of the evening. Neither side could put together any backbreaking runs, thanks in part to some good work by goaltenders Rose and Cosmo.
Still, the Rock never trailed at any point in the contest; the game was tied twice.
“We were down two or three most of the night. … We just couldn’t seem to overtake then,” said Buffalo forward John Tavares, who was the only player on his team with two goals. “They were scoring in transition.”
Buffalo even turned up its offense in the second half, piling up a 33-18 edge in shots. Cordingley saw some good moments from the offense, but not enough of them.
“When we work hard, we create those opportunities,” he said. “They have to hold and grab to stop us. We have moments of brilliance, but then we have moments of stupidity. We didn’t do that early on in the year.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We have to be better. If we’re not better, we only have three nights left.”
A small consolation for the team came when Cosmo set an NLL record for most saves in a season. He went past the old mark of 662, set by Rochester’s Matt Vinc last season, and he did it in 16 games. This year’s schedule has two extra games compared with 2013.
“It’s bittersweet anytime you break a record in a loss,” Cosmo said. “I credit the guys in front of me. We don’t give up many quality shots. … The way our defense plays is to give up a lot of shots, but not good ones. It makes my job easier.”
Cordingley added, “He’s the best goalie in the league.”
Kevin Ross and Stephan Leblanc led the Rock with three goals each, while Rob Hellyer had a goal and six assists. Steenhuis and Ryan Benesch joined Tavares with four points.
The Bandits’ situation hasn’t changed much in 24 hours. They still need either one more win or one Toronto loss to clinch second place in the NLL East. That’s important, because the first round of the playoffs between the second- and third-place teams is a best-of-one series, and home field usually is an edge.
Buffalo let one of its remaining chances to do that get away on Friday, but still could do it tonight when it plays the Knighthawks in Rochester (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
“Rochester is one of the best teams in the league. They are the defending champions, and we always have tough games against then,” Tavares said about the division leaders. “It’s a tough place to play, and they are sitting home resting. So that will make it tougher on our team. But, when you are down and out, sometimes that’s when you bounce back.”