Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — The Buffalo Bandits have caught fire. Fueling them has been the man minding their net.
Anthony Cosmo has proved integral to a Buffalo winning streak that’s run to four games thanks to an 11-10 win over the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday night in front of 13,339 at First Niagara Center. With the victory, Buffalo (4-1) passed Rochester (3-1) and assumed first place in the East.
Cosmo entered the contest second in the National Lacrosse League in saves and stopped 46 more Saturday. He started hot and sustained for much of the remainder, going unblemished in the first quarter, the second time in four games he’s shut out an opponent in a quarter.
Bandits coach Troy Cordingley thinks the 36-year-old Cosmo looks to have the All-Star form he possessed before he arrived in Buffalo in 2012.
“He was sensational,” Cordingley said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence. I think him and the defense are on the same page. He seems to be playing like he did three or four years ago.”
Cosmo was four minutes from an all-time performance, giving up only five goals in the first 56 minutes. But a late surge saw the Knighthawks score five goals in a 3:35 span to cut the lead to 11-10 with 19 seconds to go.
That doesn’t offset the quality job done between the pipes, however.
“All of a sudden it was 6 on 5 and we were letting them tee up and thank God Coz was making some saves,” Cordingley said. “But look at their offense. Anybody can score on that offense.”
It seemed for some time Cosmo would flirt with the team record of least goals allowed in a game (four, done twice). Rochester was held off the board for the first 23:16 of the game.
Joel McCready netted the first Knighthawk tally with 6:44 left in the second. That came after Rochester had several in-close chances, including a breakaway, to start the quarter. Before that initial goal, Cosmo had stopped the first 17 shots.
Coupling with Cosmo’s stellar play was an unrelenting Buffalo defense. Rochester managed just seven shots in the first, though that number proved to not matter much. Even when it peppered Cosmo with 17 shots in the second, only two went in.
The Knighthawks had back-to-back shot-clock violations in the middle of the first. They also failed to put anything on Cosmo in their final five possessions of the quarter.
It was all uncharacteristic of a two-time defending NLL champ, but it’s also indicative of Bandits’ high performance level to start the year. Cosmo gets the warranted credit on the stat sheet, but Cordingley sang the praises of the defense as a whole.
“We’ve been doing a good job at getting into lanes and getting sticks up, and our off-ball support is real good,” Cordingley said. “There were times where we weren’t good, but Coz was there. We’re a big defense and we try to protect that prime scoring area.”
Captain John Tavares turned back the clocks and led the Bandits with four goals, including a one-on-one drive that resulted in a diving score in front of the net. Ryan Benesch had a team-high six assists and Mark Steenhuis contributed five points (1+4).
Buffalo native Joe Resetarits recorded his first hat trick as a Bandit. His last marker put Buffalo up, 11-5, with 7:27 left, and at the time appeared to lack significance in regards to the result.
But it was the final goal before the quick succession of Knighthawk goals that created uncertainty. Cosmo made several stops in the final minute of play to preserve the win and his first-star showing.
“I thought we dictated a lot of the shots,” Cordingley said. “But good goalies in this league make those big saves when we need them and he’s been doing that all year for us.”
The Bandits are right back at home Saturday when they welcome another rival, the Toronto Rock. It’ll be the second meeting of the year between the teams, with Buffalo winning, 12-10, on Jan. 10 at First Niagara Center.
Follow contributing reporter Aaron Garland on Twitter @AA_Garland.