April 8, 2011

Buffalo Gains Ground in East

by Jordan Maxwell | NLL.com

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The Buffalo Bandits snatched a precious victory away from the Toronto Rock by winning 11-8 to hand them their first defeat at home this season and second straight loss while spoiling Bob Watson's last regular season home game in front of 15,084 fans at the Air Canada Centre. The Rock dropped to 10-5 while the Bandits improved to a record of 9-4.

"I think it was a great game. First half, we weren't using our heads. We took some bad penalties to give them a chance to stay in the game but once we started playing smart, we did a great job of controlling their offense," said Darris Kilgour, head coach of Buffalo Bandits.

"I wish I could have cheered for Watson tonight because he's a tremendous goalie but I'm happy for our team. It's a good statement game. Tonight was about lacrosse and I'm looking forward to getting to the playoffs if we get the opportunity."

Watson was honoured for his last home game of the regular season and overall 13-year career with the Toronto Rock. TSN broadcaster Claude Feig emceed the pre-game celebration while Colin Doyle, owner Jamie Dawick, teammates and Watson's daughter shared some kind words about Watson's worth, not only to the organization, but to the NLL as well.

Video tributes from teammates, former players and other people close to the team periodically played throughout the game.

Once the game got underway, the Rock seemed to be riding high off the emotion. Kasey Beirnes and Pat Merrill netted two quick goals to get off to the early 2-0 lead and a boisterous applause from the fans.

Still, Buffalo seemed responded with two goals of their own. John Tavares decided the crowd was making too much noise and scored a goal with 3:15 left in the first quarter to take the Bandits to a 3-2 lead.

Perhaps the pressure of getting a win for Watson stymied their game a bit because the Rock finished the quarter nervously, constantly dropping passes and being outworked by a furious Bandits defense which looked unfazed by all the festivities.

Second quarter action saw the Rock try to mount an offensive and recapture that intensity and hustle. As the fans began to get into it again, Bandits forward Chad Culp sucked the air out the arena once more as his goal made it 4-2 with just over 10 minutes to go in the half.

Bandits' goalie Mike Thompson went into beast mode saving all shots on goal to hold onto the Bandits two goal lead behind a ferocious Bandits defense.

"I've always been a great fan of him but you can't last forever," said Thompson, referencing Bob Watson and the pre-game festivities. "They always know how to push our buttons, but we kept cool."

However, penalty trouble in the form of a 5-3 power play allowed Beirnes to get his second of the game, which shifted momentum to the Rock's corner going into the half.

After one of the penalties expired, Stephan Leblanc buried in the equalizing goal and third power play tally heading into the half.

The third quarter saw a continuation for the Rock's momentum of which they snatched from the Bandits to end the half. Aaron Pascas laced a shot past Thompson with authority and the Rock just ramped up the pressure.

Exhibiting almost identical pressure defense employed by the Bandits in the first half, Toronto were able to strike once again with a goal from Rob Marshall to make it 6-4.

The Bandits woke up shortly after though as Bucktooth squeezed a goal past Watson before Kelusky followed suit to tie the game up at six.

Then, Tavares and Brenden Thenhaus scored two goals in 27 seconds to silence the crowd and take a two goal lead before Culp notched another goal with less than a minute left in the quarter.

The fourth quarter brought much of the same momentum on behalf of the Bandits as they re-ignited the fiery defense that earned them the 9-6 lead.

This time around though, they would let the Rock back into the game. With 5:20 left in the game, Kyle Clancy scored to make it 10-6 before Mark Steenhuis added another goal.

Beirnes scored two late goals but it wasn't enough as Bandits goalie Thompson stifled the rest of the Rock's chances to seal the 11-8 win.

"We need to have more life. We were missing a pulse for whatever reason so it's how you respond from it is the thing that counts," said Watson.

"We were totally outplayed," said Troy Cordingley, head coach of the Toronto Rock. "We were waiting things to happen instead of making things happen. We had no sense of urgency; it slipped away from us after that three-week break. If we're going to win this thing, or compete and try to win, we need to find it."

"It's frustrating that we blew first place. It was a special night for Bob but team comes first. We're brutal right now. We're not playing well and we have to get back to playing the way that we can play. We got to find that will to win and do whatever it takes. We were taught a lesson tonight against a team who wanted to win more than we did."

The Rock are tied with the Bandits for first place and hold the tiebreaker over Toronto and can only clinch the first place if Buffalo loses two of their last three games.

Next up, The Bandits will square off against the Rochester Knighthawks at the Blue Cross Arena at 7:35 pm ET on Saturday while the Rock will battle the Edmonton Rush at the Rexall Place at 9:00 pm ET.

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