Someone needs to check John Tavares’ birth certificate. Based on his performance for the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday night, he can’t really be 45.
“I think he’s 21,” teammate Anthony Cosmo said. “I don’t want him to retire. He’s saying he’s frustrated with his play, but he’s producing when it counts.”
Tavares had a night to remember in the First Niagara Center, scoring four goals in Buffalo’s 12-8 win over the Rochester Knighthawks before 9,209. The win gives the Bandits the edge in the National Lacrosse League’s East final.
Rochester now has to win a regulation game and then a 10-minute mini-game to advance to the NLL final. Buffalo only needs one win to qualify for the final. The two teams will complete the series next Saturday night in Rochester.
The Bandits took another step toward burying a regular season that saw them close with a long losing streak.
“That was a great win,” Tavares said. “We’re a huge underdog. They are the two-time defending champs, we just snuck in the playoffs, and we lost eight in a row.”
Perhaps the best sign for the Bandits was that for the second straight week, they took charge in the fourth quarter when the game was up for grabs. Buffalo did that against Toronto last week.
“That’s a positive for us,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “Earlier in the year when we were 8-2, we were winning the fourth-quarter battles. This league is so close, most of the games come down to the fourth quarter.”
Tavares and Co. put on a memorable finishing kick Saturday. Rochester had an 8-7 lead with less than seven minutes to go when Tavares scored his third goal of the game. Only 19 seconds later, Dhane Smith put Buffalo ahead for good. Smith, the second-year pro, added another goal 59 seconds after that, and Mark Steenhuis and Tavares rounded out the scoring.
On a night when some veterans were leading the way, Smith’s contributions were far from overlooked.
“Dhane came up huge for us,” Steenhuis said. “He’s a great talent, and he gave us a huge boost.”
Steenhuis joined Tavares in the four-goal club for the night, and Smith also had a hat trick.
“We can still get better, but in the fourth quarter, at crunch time, we showed up,” Steenhuis said.
While those goals decided the game, the one that the fans will remember came in the second quarter. Tavares had a score that looked like a throwback to his rookie year of 1992, as he scored on his signature move.
“I was in trouble at first, but I got behind the goal and I saw where the goalie was positioned,” Tavares said. “I took a chance. I jumped – not very high – and put it in.”
Cordingley added, “I’m amazed that a 45-year-old man can pick up a loose ball and score with one step on the top shelf of the opposite side with a man draped all over him. To be honest with you, I’d compare him to myself just getting out of bed.”
The two teams combined for a slightly odd looking game. Both sides had their share of short runs, but they also had times when they couldn’t complete a pass, didn’t shoot the ball in 30 seconds, or made turnovers.
“It was a good game, but it was an ugly game at times,” Tavares said. “I looked sloppy in the first quarter. A few times we just dropped passes.”
Still, Buffalo’s defense had the edge in the fourth quarter when it counted. The unit held the Knighthawks to one goal in the final 15 minutes while the offense went on the game-deciding run.
“Our defense just pummeled them. I wouldn’t want to be out there against these guys,” Cosmo said.
“I thought we were real good defensively,” Cordingley said. “Cosmo made some good saves, but it starts with the defense.”
Dan Dawson and Cody Jamieson both finished with two goals and three assists for Rochester.
“They closed it out, and obviously we didn’t. They know how close out games, and the scoreboard indicates this is a tough place to play,” Dawson said.
This was a crucial game for the Bandits, who clearly didn’t want to give the Knighthawks two chances to win the series next week at home. Tavares wants to see that same attitude carry over to next week, as he and the Bandits try to reach the championship round for the first time since 2008.
“We still have our work cut out for us,” he said. “We did our job today, but we have to go in and try to win the regulation game next week. We have to keep that mindset.”