Last time the Buffalo Bandits met the Portland LumberJax at HSBC, the locals finished the night by hoisting the National Lacrosse League trophy.
This time around, the Bandits are just hoping its their confidence that gets lifted.
Losers of two straight, the reigning league champs have come back to the pack after winning their first five games. After a heartbreaking one-goal defeat at home to Minnesota on Feb. 28, the Bandits dropped an overtime decision to Rochester last week.
But Bandits coach and Niagara-Wheatfield graduate Darris Kilgour warned that his team’s defense wasn’t playing well when the team was off to its hot start. And Kilgour thinks a simpler approach on defense could be the key to getting the Bandits back in the win column.
“It’s been a complete collapse from top to bottom. Things just keep snowballing,” Kilgour said. “Everybody’s trying to help each other instead of doing their own job. The little things that cost us time and space. We’re so cautious, we’re giving up too much time and space.”
While Buffalo (7-3) has dropped off on defense, longtime star John Tavares hasn’t been slacking. Tavares had four goals and three assists in the 15-14 loss to Rochester last Saturday, and now has 30 goals on the season. Tavares only trails teammate Mark Steenhuis in the league’s scoring race.
Meanwhile, Portland has crept slowly back toward the top of the standings, using four straight wins to get back to a 5-3 mark. The LumberJax have only played once since Feb. 7, however and will need a gritty effort in a place many consider the NLL’s toughest road arena.
“Quietly would be a good way to say it,” Portland coach Derek Keenan said. “We’ve played well and pretty consistent. Obviously, it’s a huge challenge — it’s probably the most difficult place to go in and play.”
As for last year’s game, both coaches agree the contest was a classic. Steenhuis finished with the MVP trophy after scoring five goals — including the game-winner. Mike Thompson’s save with one second left gave Buffalo a 14-13 victory before a packed HSBC Arena crowd.
“I thought it was a great lacrosse game,” Kilgour said. “It could have gone either way. But that was 10 months ago, we need to move on.”
Portland (5-3) at Buffalo (7-3)
• WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
• WHERE: HSBC Arena
• RADIO: WWKB 1520
• NOTES: Buffalo has lost two straight, although both were by a single goal. ... Portland’s leading scorer is Cory Conway with 13 goals and 22 assists. ... John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis each have three game-winning goals on the season.