Niagara Gazette — The Buffalo Bandits may be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but they aren’t looking at it that way.
Instead, the Bandits are treating tonight’s game against the Rochester Knighthawks as if it were their ninth appearance in a NLL finals series.
“It’s pretty much a championship game the way the playoffs are in lacrosse. You lose, you go home,” Bandits’ leading scorer Shawn Williams said. “We’re definitely excited for that challenge, having the defending champions come into a raucous building.”
The Bandits (6-9) are in position to clinch a NLL playoff berth when they host the Knighthawks (7-8) at 7:30 tonight at First Niagara Center in a do-or-die season finale for both teams. Whichever team wins will clinch a playoff berth. A Rochester loss would leave the Knighthawks' fate in the hands of Colorado (6-9), which could then sneak in with a win of its own.
“You win, you’re in, and that’s the bottom line,” Williams said. “Wherever you end up playing next week, no one really cares, to be honest. You just want to get in.”
Buffalo holds a 2-1 season series lead over the Knighthawks. The teams’ last meeting came on Feb. 16, a 10-6 Bandits’ win in Rochester.
The Bandits won one more game after that before dropping six in a row – a slide they would end in a must-win game last week in Washington.
“Any time you lose that many in a row and then win one you gain some confidence, but we’re also aware that this league, week in, week out, you could be on the other end of it,” Williams said.
Buffalo’s 15-10 win over the Stealth didn’t come blemish-free. The team lost the turnover battle and gave up three power-play goals.
“It’s definitely not getting over-confident,” Williams added. “It’s just making sure that we fix the mistakes that we made on Saturday night, because obviously we did (make mistakes).”
“The guys really dug in,” assistant coach Rich Kilgour said. "We’ve been saying do-or-die for seven weeks, and we really came through (last) weekend. We’ve put ourselves in a position now to win and we’re in. That’s our concentration this week.”
While both teams are fighting for their playoff lives with a sub-.500 record, they can take solace in knowing that the Knighthawks won the NLL championship despite finishing with a 7-9 record last season – a testament to the league’s parity.
“Any night, if a team is at their best that night, they’re going to beat you,” Knighthawks’ coach Mike Hasen said. “We’re looking forward to being our best in game 16.”
Bandits’ backup goaltender Kurtis Wagar played in place of injured starter Anthony Cosmo against Washington, stopping 33 shots. Kilgour praised Wagar’s play and noted that the team isn’t sure what will happen in net with Cosmo’s status still unknown.
“We have to see what the doctors say about (Cosmo), how he feels,” Kilgour said. “Come Saturday, we’ll go to shoot around and see how we feel.”