BY TOM GALLAGHER
Niagara Gazette — In the midst of a three-game losing skid, the Buffalo Bandits have not been playing playoff-caliber lacrosse of late.
On the opposite end, the Edmonton Rush have won three in a row.
Those streaks collide when the Bandits host the Rush at 7:30 tonight at First Niagara Center.
The Bandits (5-6) are coming off a pair of losses to Colorado in which they gave up 29 goals, including seven on the power play. Assistant coach Rich Kilgour said that they need to be better on special teams if they plan on competing with the Edmonton (6-5).
"When we take penalties, it ruins the flow to everything," he said. "It gets bogged down to playing the same four guys on offense, the same four guys on defense. The big thing for us is discipline, stay out of the box."
Kilgour also noted that a sense of urgency has escaped the Bandits in recent weeks. With just five games left in the regular season, establishing that side of their game is important.
"Last week, Colorado came out and was desperate," Kilgour said. "We played like we were just hoping to hang on. Now, hopefully we can be the desperate team."
The Rush bested the Bandits in the teams' only meeting last season. That team has added several news faces, including Mark Matthews, the first overall selection in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft.
Matthews, ranked second on the team in points behind Ryan Ward, has been one of Edmonton's top players. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward is 12th in the league in scoring and first among rookies. He has 31 goals and 20 assists in 11 games.
"He's a buy-in guy," Rush coach Derek Keenan said. "He's going to buy into the system and he works well with others. He shoots the ball extremely hard and accurate and he is a good playmaker too. Needless to say, he's been real good for us."
Edmonton can clinch the playoffs with a pair of wins and a Colorado loss this weekend. The Rush are coming off a win over defending NLL champion Rochester, the team that beat them to earn that title last season.
"Regardless of the win, it doesn't feel as good as if we would have won last year," Rush goalie Aaron Bold said of the team's win over Rochester. "Besides that, I think we've been playing very consistent as a team. The camaraderie is really coming together. This weekend is a very typical situation for us and we're looking to come out on top."
Kilgour said that the Bandits may stand pat and not make many changes to the lineup for tonight's game. Forward Derek Hopcroft made his season debut last weekend, contributing three goals and two assists.
"It's so great to finally get in the lineup," Hopcroft said. "I felt that I needed to come in and help contribute with the offense, put up some numbers and try to get the win for our team. Personally, with the goals and assists I put up this week, it definitely felt great to feel that I'm part of this offense and I want to continue to be a part of this offense.
Alex-Kedoh Hill has yet to join the club, Kilgour noted. The team traded defenseman Scott Self for the forward at the trade deadline last week.
"We're working on getting (Hill) on to the roster," Kilgour said. "It's a work in progress right now."