BY AARON GARLAND email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — The Buffalo Bandits are limping into their regular season finale tonight. That’s the bad news.
The good news is they were one the National Lacrosse League’s biggest success stories the first half of the year. Thus, the Bandits (8-9) have clinched a playoff berth amidst their current seven-game losing skid, becoming the first team in league history to endure such a stretch and still extend its year.
Buffalo’s hopes of earning a first-round bye in the postseason — a plausible scenario following an 8-2 start — have faded drastically as the seven straight defeats proceeded. The Bandits look to regain that winning feeling tonight at First Niagara Center against East Division champs and controller of that first-round bye, the Rochester Knighthawks (13-4). It’s a rematch of last Saturday’s 8-4 Knighthawks victory at Blue Cross Arena.
“We have to get a win. It’s pretty simple,” Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich said during a conference call this week. “The seven in a row is pretty amazing because we’re a better team than that.”
With three teams making the postseason in the five-team East, the Toronto Rock (8-9) represent the other representative, meaning it’ll square off against the Bandits in the first round. All that’s left to be decided is the location of that game.
A Buffalo win tonight would help cure an alarmingly lethargic second half, as it would clinch home field for the matchup. Toronto travels to Minnesota tonight for its finale, and a Rock loss would also etch Banditland as host of the contest since Buffalo owns any tiebreaker by winning the season series, 2-1.
The Bandits’ last win came against Colorado on March 15 when they were still atop the East.
Much of the contrast between the start and finish to the season has to do with Buffalo playing six of its last seven games on the road. The Bandits went 6-1 at home in their first 10 games. Once they played extended stretches away, their shortcomings crept to the forefront.
“It’s key for two reasons,” Dietrich said of tonight’s game. “One, we want to get a win because you want to remember what it’s like to win a lacrosse game. It’s been almost two months. Secondly, we seem to have a real good record at home and we’ve struggled on the road.
“Knowing we have to play Toronto (in the first round), we’d rather play Toronto in our building as opposed to having to go to the Air Canada Centre,” Dietrich added.
While defense and goaltending has been consistent most of the year— Anthony Cosmo leads the league in saves, is tied for tops in save percentage and is third in goals against average — scoring has been scarce as of late.
The Bandits are the second-lowest scoring team in the NLL. They produce 10.4 goals per game, and have reached double-digit goals in one game during the recent slide.
A campaign that once flashed much promise now relies on the team returning to that early-season form where each phase was playing well.
“It’s frustrating,” said forward Joe Resetarits, who has totaled 37 points (23+14), of the offense. “We haven’t been doing our part, especially with how good our defense is playing. It comes down to us. We’ve talked about it a million times. It just comes down to us stop talking about it and doing it.”
“The group that’s been on the floor just hasn’t meshed,” Dietrich said. “It’s not trying to put any onus on any one individual on the left side (of the forward group), but somebody needs to step up or it’s going to be a short playoff run for us.”
Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Follow contributing reporter Aaron Garland on Twitter @AA_Garland.